In a small hospital in Ohio, over 150 nurses, staff, family, players, and friends lined a hallway, stretching as far as the eye could see and winding around the corner. They did not clap, applaud, or cheer for the man before them. Instead, they quietly paid homage, with their silent respect saying more than words ever could.
The man before them was a father of three young children, a beloved baseball and football coach to his son’s teams, a sports lover, an active member of his community — and now, a hero.
As a hero, 41-year-old Cletus “Clete” Schnieders was given a hero’s respect with an “Honor Walk” as he was taken into the operating room of Mercy West Hospital in Cincinnati.
Clete’s wife, Carrie, tells Babble that although she and her husband had discussed organ donation after one of his uncles had passed away suddenly at a young age, she never thought it would be something that would come up in their own lives. However, when Clete passed away very unexpectedly in June, Carrie knew it was something her husband would have wanted.
“Clete was the most simple person ever,” she explains. “He got along with everyone. Everyone loved my husband.”
As the hospital staff prepared for the procedure to donate Clete’s organs and tissue, word quickly spread. Then, those who knew and loved him — along with those who simply wanted to honor him — quietly filled the hospital’s corridor. Carrie says that she had no idea how many people would turn up that day for her husband and seeing the hallway filled with so many people supporting her family was “unbelievable.”
“The picture doesn’t do it justice,” she says. “The line just wrapped around the hall — it was so comforting, but it was also heartbreaking.”
Before her husband was wheeled down the hallway, Carrie, with hands shaking so much she feared she missed the shot, snapped a picture of the Honor Walk he was to embark on. She notes that it was incredibly important to her to have the image captured to show their children, 9-year-old son Trenton, 4-year-old son Cletus, and 2-year-old daughter Samantha, what their father had done.
“I want to show them that picture to show them how important their dad is … how much love there was, and how he’s a hero to many people,” she explains.
Thankfully, Carrie captured the shot perfectly. “I couldn’t believe it saved,” she says.
The LifeCenter Organ Donor Network first shared the powerful image of the Honor Walk on their Facebook page, explaining how the Honor Walk is done to pay respect to the hero who chose to be an organ donor as that individual makes their way to the operating room. In the end, Clete donated three lifesaving organs (his kidneys and liver) and his entire donation also contributed to the lives of 50 other people.
Melissa Holliday, Organ Operations Director with the LifeCenter Organ Donor Network, explains that the organization, which has approximately 5-8 organ donations each month, introduced Honor Walks in December of 2017. The Honor Walk is a family decision. If a donor family decides they would like an Honor Walk, then LifeCenter coordinates with hospital administration and staff, along with the donor’s family, to organize the event.
Holliday explains that the Honor Walks are an incredibly powerful experience for everyone involved.
“Typically, the donor’s family walks behind their loved one as they are being transported to the operating room, through the Honor Walk,” she notes. “They are unaware of what to expect and to see the emotion on their faces and the tears in their eyes as their loved one is honored in this way brings immense meaning to everyone involved.”
For Carrie and her family, the Honor Walk was able to do just that. Now that her image has spread widely across the Internet, she can’t help but chuckle a little at seeing how much exposure it has gotten.
“Clete hated the attention and now we have to laugh about it, because my friend said, ‘You know he’s up there just rolling his eyes at you there,’” she says with a soft laugh.
Still, Carrie is happy to spread the message about what a difference organ donation can make, not just to the recipients, but to the family of the donor who is left behind.
In her case, she and her children have been able to meet John Mock, Clete’s liver recipient, whom they speak to almost once a week. John has expressed an interest in being in their lives as much as possible, which Carrie says has helped the entire family to heal.
“It has helped Trent understand that a piece of his daddy is in another man now,” she explains. “He’s asking, ‘So, we’re all family now?’ … It’s really cool.”
Although she is comforted by the fact that Clete will live on through organ donation, after a whirlwind time since his passing, Carrie says she is just now coming to the place where she is realizing that her husband isn’t coming home again.
“I keep telling myself he’s at work and he’ll come home in a few hours,” she admits.
Adjusting to her new life as a single mom to her three very young kids, Carrie says they are doing the best they can and notes that she is incredibly thankful for the large network of support she has in Clete’s family, her family and friends, and their baseball and football families.
Even though over 50 people have had their lives touched by the man she loved most in the world, under her roof, there are four people who will be learning to live without him.
“We pray to him every night … I hope that he is proud of how I am raising our kids and how I am handling everything,” she says. “We just miss him.”