Last weekend I got the opportunity to meet some truly incredible kids, and their families.
They’re called “heart warriors”, and if there was a word in the English language that better defined battling constantly, against intimidating odds, with the courage of a lion, while staring adversity dead in the eye, all with a smile, then they’d be called that instead.
Because make no mistake, these kids have been through hell and back.
Though you would never, ever know unless you were told their stories.
Witnessing these children and their families who are battling congenital heart disease, and those who have triumphed over it, has been a profoundly moving experience that has reshaped my perspective on life.
I’ve gotten to know Bo and Ellen Boyer over the last 6 years or so through mutual friends and a rockstar event planner named Erin. Over that time, they and their friends and family, have become some of my close friends and favorite people I know.
Bo and Ellen are the in-laws of Luke Bryan.
They had a baby daughter named Brett who was born with congenital heart disease, and who fought as hard as she could until her little heart gave out.
Bo and Ellen sat by fighting just as hard, but feeling helpless. Despite some of the best medical attention in the world, it wasn’t enough.
CHD is called a “silent disease” because nobody really hears about it despite how common it actually is. Each year approximately 40,000 babies are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect. It’s often associated with Down’s syndrome.
CHD is the most common type of birth defect, affecting 8 to 9 per 1,000 live births.
The fact that medical research, (and funding), has lagged behind a disease that affects so many family’s didn’t sit right with Bo and Ellen, or Luke and his wife Caroline, or baby Brett’s pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Brett Mettler. So they did something about it so that other kids would have a better shot, and other families wouldn’t have to endure what they did.
To say that this couldn’t have happened to more kind, loving, amazing people isn’t fit for words. Bo and Ellen are two of the best humans I have ever met in my life. Living embodiments of inspiration.
Rather than feel sorry for themselves, and dwell on the sadness, they decided to carry on Brett’s legacy, and honor her in a way that will echo through generations.
They started the foundation in their daughter’s name- The Bright For Brett, Brett Boyer Foundation.
I was introduced to the cause back in 2016 or so when I played the CMA after party in Las Vegas. Luke Bryan took over the mic and emcee duties, and we threw a wild after party. A few months later they were planning their first big charity event, called Red Bird Games, at Luke’s farm outside Nashville, and I got to go play before the band and for the “after party” for that.
The stories I heard, people I met, and incredible generosity I witnessed blew me away. I’ve been back every year since.
Last weekend was our annual Red Bird Games event and I got the chance to meet and hang out with a new crew of Heart Warriors.
Among them, two special kids named Owen and Grace.
First off, Grace is a firecracker.
During introductions in the morning, done by the “voice of the Titans”, Matt Rogers, (who is the man by the way), Grace proceeded to correct him, and inform the crowd that she was “sexy and famous”.
Throughout the day she made sure to be center of attention wherever she went, ask people if they needed anything (because she’s polite), and closed out the party on stage with Luke Bryan and Kid Rock.
Owen is a little boy so full of life and beaming with joy I was stunned to hear what he’s been through.
All morning and afternoon long he was nothing but smiles, wanting to be held by his parents, and get his hands on everything he possibly could on the farm. Like any normal little kid.
I never in a million years would have guessed little Owen’s been through countless open heart surgeries since being born.
Or that he’s literally an angel.
Not in the literary sense, but for the fact that Owen is the first person in the world to undergo and receive a “partial heart transplant”. And he’s living proof the science, medicine, and technology today is possible.
The procedure Owen underwent, the doctors who performed it, and the funding for the research that went into it were all a result of money and donations raised through The Brett Boyer Foundation.
In talking to Owen’s parents, they told me that because of HIPA laws, they had absolutely no idea that they were gifted or connected to the foundation whatsoever.
The Today Show was doing a special on them, and somebody put two and two together and connected them. They obviously couldn’t be more grateful- their son has a second chance at a normal life thanks to baby Brett, and all the wonderful people who’ve given their time, love, support, and money in her name. And now, through Owen’s groundbreaking procedure, other children will too.
Getting to witness these kids, and their parents, enjoy a sunshine filled day outside, laughing and smiling, put me in a weird place mentally. But for a good reason.
Hearing their stories first hand, it’s impossible not to get choked up. Or to feel like a real asshole in comparison. (More on this in a few). These people and these kids have no complaints. They’re so happy and grateful and enjoying life.
More and more I find myself, (maybe due to old age), in these tender moments of resilience and unwavering love and I've come to understand what truly matters and what doesn't.
These brave children, facing unimaginable challenges from the very start of their lives, embody a spirit of courage that defies comprehension.
Their families, standing by them with unwavering support and devotion, teach us the power of love and unity in the face of adversity.
In their stories of hope, perseverance, and determination, I've learned that the trivial worries and superficial pursuits that often preoccupy our lives are mere distractions from the profound beauty of existence.
Ellen said a few words before the charity auction (which is insane by the way), and she said something I will never forget.
She said that her and her husband believe God brought Brett into their lives for this very reason. So that they would be called to take action, help the lives of thousands of others, and literally change the world. That really is wild perspective when you think about it. It would be so easy to think the opposite way and I think so many of us fall into the trap of doing so.
I’ve thought to myself that I’ve had a pretty rough year. I got beaten senseless by a deranged career criminal by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I had my first business failure where I lost my friends and myself a ton of money, and I’ve let down a lot of people I care about.
To think “I have it rough” or that I’ve dealt with a lot is an absolute joke.
I haven’t gone through or dealt with shit compared to these little kids and their families.
Seeing these young warriors fight for every heartbeat, and witnessing the sheer joy in their eyes when they conquer each hurdle, reminds me that life's most precious treasures are health, family, love, and the sheer privilege of being alive.
Every smile, every milestone, and every moment of joy these children experience, despite their challenges, serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit.
It has taught and reminded me to cherish each day, to savor every simple pleasure, to help others the best I am able to, and to prioritize the profound connections we share with our loved ones.
Because that’s what truly matters.
In the face of such courage, my perspective on life has shifted, allowing me to recognize that the heart of existence lies in the love we give and receive, in the moments we create, and in the compassion we extend to those in need. And I owe a lot of that to Bo, Ellen, Dr. Brett, Luke & Caroline, Jennifer, Jim & Allison, Troy, EVERYBODY at The Brett Boyer Foundation, and kids like Grace and Owen.
If you’d like to learn more about the Brett Boyer Foundation check out their website here-
If you’d like to be involved in next years Red Bird Games (think Red Neck Olympics, on Luke Bryan’s Farm- bass fishing with Bill Dance, a gun range with Daniel Defense, smoking meats with The Meat Church, skeet shooting, four wheeling, putting for high end purses, and the best private concert with some of the best musicians in Nashville, (and me), and you and your company are ready to open your checkbook, please reach out to me. Teams aren’t cheap but there’s no better cause and no better time.
P.s. - I blogged this a few years ago, but I don’t think many people read my stuff back then. So here it is again. Tim Tebow gave one of the most powerful and profound speeches I’ve ever heard at our Red Bird Games a few years back. I think it would do everybody some good to give it a listen.