Born July 17, 1990
Mattie Stepanek was born with a rare and fatal form of muscular dystrophy, dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. This causes muscle weakness and interrupted autonomic processes in his body, like breathing, digestion, and blood pressure. Because of this disease he had to use a wheelchair and respirator. His brothers and mother, Jeni Stepanek, all suffered from the same disease. During his short but impactful life, he became a goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystophy Association, an advocate for children's hospice, and an author of 5 best-selling books of poetry and essays.
Mattie started to write when he was 3 because of the death of his brother. He called his poems "heart songs," or “gifts that reflect each person’s unique reason for being.” He also famously wrote to Oprah Winfrey not to end her show after her 20th anniversary, and she took his advice. Oprah, like many other celebrities such as his hero, US President Jimmy Carter, became supporters of Mattie, helping to spread his message. He passed away at the age of 13, leaving behind a message of peace and hope.
Mattie Remembered by His Mom, Jeni Stepanek
Read the essay on Mattie in My Hero: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them: "Before my son died, he made me promise him that I would do whatever I could not to give in to sorrow and grief and the agonizing weight of an empty lap and empty arms. And I won't because I learned from my son that we create our own epitaph and legacy--or as he called it, "the echo and silhouette of our essence"--through every choice we make in every moment of life with which we are blessed…"
MY HERO's Slater Jewell-Kemker interviews Dr. Jeni Stepanek in an in-depth interview.
Films About Mattie
A short animated tribute to poet hero Mattie Stepanek. The soundtrack features the St. Paul's Episcopal Day School choir singing a song inspired by one of Mattie's poems.
Children's Hospice Volunteer Jim Hawkins talks about his heroes, Mattie and Jeni Stepanek.
Films about Mattie's mother Jeni Stepanek
Oprah visits Jeni Stepanek as she celebrates the miracle of another birthday. Jeni is the mother of Mattie Stepanek, one of Oprah's greatest spiritual teachers. "Mattie was one of the most authentic, loving souls I have ever known," Oprah says. "Jeni instinctively knew how to foster and encourage this precious gift to the world."
Jeni Stepanek accepts the 2016 MY HERO Project Humanitarian Award.
Collage painting of Mattie Stepanek with his dog, Micah, donated to the 2006 Heartsongs Gala, an annual event held in Mattie's honor.
Mattie put together his first book for a contest when he was in kindergarten, and it became a New York Times best-seller.
Recommended by Oprah Winfrey, Mattie’s second book was written between ages 3 to 10. Foreword by Former President Jimmy Carter. The book features poems and finger paintings, and was a #1 New York Times best seller.
Mattie's third book, written between ages 3 to 11, features poems he wrote on September 11, 2001. Foreword by spiritual author Gary Zukav.
Mattie’s fifth book of poetry was the last published during his lifetime. Written between ages 3-12, it features a foreword by Dr. Maya Angelou.
Mattie’s final book. A collection of peace essays, poetry, letters and photographs. Features a "forthword" by President Jimmy Carter.
A NY Times bestseller: Mattie’s mom, Jeni Stepanek, writes about Mattie's early life through last days. Foreword by Maya Angelou.