United Way's Schmitt Maybe Facing a Losing Battle

By Eileen Jones - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When you mention the name United Way that conjures up the image of people helping people, but things have changed dramatically for one of its best known employees.  Over the last 18 years, he's helped raise millions for agencies in town and now he finds himself calling on one of them during his time of need.

Hank Schmitt was planning to retire after 20 years at United Way but now he's learned he won't make it. "August 5th is when the doctors - I was laying in the hospital bed - said OK. We're calling in Hospice. We can't do anything else."

And, the reasons why doctors said that are even more scary.

"My diagnosis is......congestive heart failure and with a Hospice diagnosis.....the presumption, I guess you could say or the guess is that, August the 5th I got six months left."

Schmitt was often the face of the United Way agencies here at channel 12 whenever there was a hurricane or severe weather. While he was helping people then he's now learning how to help himself.

He must use a breathing machine four times a day, and estimates he takes about 20 pills everyday. He also carries oxygen with him 24-7. And, he's had to - stop - doing a few things even though he says he's waited too late. "Probably last year I had to face the fact that I've had a life long romance with food. Obviously, food's not bad but back in the day when I could eat three or four cheeseburgers at a sitting - that ain't good for anybody," says Schmitt.

He weighs more than 300 pounds and those years of excessive eating, smoking and drinking have all taken their toll maybe costing him his life.

"A lot of people, and I suspect some of the people listening to this are smoking and eating too much maybe drinking too much. They say, oh well, I'll stop tomorrow. Stop today! Don't wait until tomorrow because you may find yourself flat on your back looking at an emergency room ceiling."

Hank Schmitt is preparing for his death and he plans to help others when he passes away. He wants no casket or body at his funeral because he's donating his body to the University of Alabama Medical School in Birmingham. That's so, he says, doctors can learn the skills to help other people down the road.

Schmitt's last day at the United Way is at the end of November.