In the Spotlight

Mike Hart

Mike Hart

Mike Hart was honored with the Jena Award, which recognizes a dedicated volunteer who has not been directly touched by the disease, yet works tirelessly on behalf of the CF Foundation’s mission. Given annually by Marc and Margarete Cassalina, the award is named in honor of their daughter who lost her battle with CF at the age of 13.

Ask Mike Hart why he devotes so much of his time and effort to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and he’ll tell you: “Everything I do is for my friend, Jill Conner. I raise funds for the Foundation because I want to see a cure for Jill and for all people with CF.”

Mike serves on the board of directors for the Gateway Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He is co-chair of the chapter’s black-tie gala and Great Strides walks. Last year, he encouraged his employer, Isle of Capri Casinos, to support the Foundation’s mission.

His extraordinary commitment to the CF cause earned him the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s 2014 Jena Award, which recognizes a dedicated volunteer who has not been directly touched by the disease, yet works tirelessly on behalf of the CF Foundation’s mission. Given annually by Marc and Margarete Cassalina, the award is named in honor of their daughter who lost her battle with CF at the age of 13.

Best Friends

Mike and Jill grew up in a rural farming community in Missouri. They went to school together from kindergarten through college.

“Jill is like a sister to me. We did everything together,” Mike said.

Mike Hart

Mike Hart and his best friend, Jill Conner, who has CF, are strong supporters of the CF Foundation’s mission to find a cure for all people with the disease.

But there was one important difference: Jill, now in her late 30s, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 3. As a child, Mike admits he didn’t understand what having CF meant for Jill, but it didn’t take him long to learn. Jill often had to miss school and was in and out of the hospital throughout her childhood.

While in college, Mike became increasingly worried as Jill’s health started to rapidly decline. She was given oxygen, and, after consulting with doctors, decided to undergo a lung transplant.

“Jill carried a pager in case the call would come in that a pair of lungs was ready. I carried a secondary pager,” Mike said. “We developed an action plan with a meeting location. Jill knew she wouldn’t be able to make the two-hour drive to the hospital, so I was responsible for taking her to the hospital when the call came in.”

Celebrating Life

The day before Thanksgiving of 1997, Jill received her new set of lungs from a donor. Recovering from the transplant was not easy, but Jill was determined to become a healthier, better person. Today, she is thriving. Each year, to celebrate just how far she has come, Jill sets a new goal for herself.

For her 14th transplant anniversary, she participated in the Tulsa Chapter’s stair climb, huffing it up a 36-story building. A year later, Jill ran a half marathon. For her sweet 16 anniversary, she participated in the Tulsa Chapter’s 19-mile Xtreme Hike. This year, she will be participating in the both the Tulsa Chapter’s and Gateway Chapter’s Xtreme Hike events, which will take her on two 30-mile treks through rough, rugged terrain.

Whenever he can, Mike joins her in the challenges.

“I’ve been in good health my entire life. I have nothing to complain about,” Mike said. “Seeing Jill do so much while battling CF really inspires me. It makes me realize just how fortunate I am, and reminds me that I should take advantage of what I do have to help others.”