Summer Manship Students Responsible for Viral LOPA Video of Organ Donor's Father Meeting Recipient
On Sunday, June 18, 2017, Bill Conner of Wisconsin paused his 2600-mile cross-country bicycle ride to stop in Ventress, Louisiana to meet the recipient of his deceased daughter’s heart, Loumonth Jack, Jr. The video of the two meeting on Father’s Day has since gone viral on an international scale.
Conner’s daughter Abbey, who passed away earlier this year, was a 20-year-old public relations student at University of Whitewater on a winter break trip to Cancun with her brother Austin. After being found unconscious at a resort pool, the siblings were taken to Broward Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, where Austin recovered and Abbey did not. Because Abbey was an organ donor, her heart was quickly sent to Vacherie, Louisiana to save Jack, a 21-year-old with a failing heart.
With some help from Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA), Jack was able to contact his organ donor’s father, and the pair quickly became friends. When Conner started a fundraising campaign for his bike ride across the country, he and Jack agreed to meet somewhere along the way. The purpose of the ride was to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation, visit the Fort Lauderdale hospital and spread his daughter’s ashes in the ocean, but Conner’s stop in Vacherie was a truly special part of his journey.
The Impact of a Well-Written Press Release
For Manship student Mary Klemenok and her classmates, the day that Conner and Jack met at a camp in Vacherie is a day they will never forget. But more than that, Klemenok and her classmates are the individuals responsible for getting this heartfelt moment shared across the globe.
In their final semester at Manship, all graduating seniors have to take a capstone course within their concentration’s curriculum. For public relations and advertising students, these courses are known simply as “Campaigns,” because students are divided into groups to develop either a PR or advertising campaign for a real-world client over the course of the semester. This year, Manship offered PR Campaigns as a summer course for the first time ever.
Under the guidance of Instructor Sadie Wilks, Mary Klemenok and five other students formed a group and were assigned to work with LOPA at the beginning of June. In the first week of class, Lori Steele, community educator for LOPA, met with the group to talk about LOPA as an organization and discuss the summer events and activities that had the potential to be included as part of the campaign.
“I remember when [Lori] was telling us about [Conner and Jack’s meeting], and thinking ‘Oh, that’s a really, really cool event that we could take on,’” Klemenok said. “So I really wanted us to do this event.”
Almost immediately, the Campaigns group set to work with Klemenok pumping out a press release for the event to send to local media outlets.
“If I didn’t have a good press release, those news outlets could have easily just laughed my email off,” Klemenok explained. “But that’s why all these media outlets were interested, because it always starts with a press release or else they won’t know about it. I think that’s a really huge thing that I’ve learned.”
Of course, multiple local news outlets, including WAFB and The Advocate, showed up to capture the moment of Conner listening his daughter’s heart in Jack’s chest. Since then, the footage from CBS and Now This has been viewed an astounding number of times.
“[LOPA] has been kind of adding up the numbers, and we think the people that have actually viewed that video is just over 90 million throughout the U.S. and other countries,” Steele said.
The impact that the video is having on the Organ Donor Registry is even more impressive.
“The national registry more than doubled the average registration rates in the days following that post [of the video],” Steel said. “And our biggest spike was on June 20th, when we had 18,000 plus registering. That’s more than three times the daily rate of folks saying ‘yes’ to donation.”
Though the video of Conner and Jack’s meeting resonates with so many individuals around the world, it is clear that everyone connects with this story in a completely unique and personal way. For Klemenok, working with LOPA has been an eye-opening, preparative and fulfilling experience, as she’s been able to earn real-world work skills while serving her community.
“Knowing that I have the ability to write a very strong [press release] that appeals to news outlets is really a huge benefit, and it makes me feel like maybe working in the real world isn’t going to be so scary,” Klemenok said. “I already did something really good, so I think that’s what has made a really big impact on me during this process, other than helping make something this emotional happen.”
Follow Bill Conner’s journey on his gofundme page. To become an organ donor, sign up with Donate Life at registerme.org.
Additional sources: The Advocate, LOPA