Mattie was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and he moved around with the help of a wheelchair and oxygen tanks. His mother, Jeni, also suffers from the debilitating disease and unknowingly passed it on to all four of her children—Mattie was her only child who lived past the age of 4.
Mattie wasn't bound by his physical limitations, and his brilliant mind allowed his spirit to soar. He used his incredible gift of insight to write poetry he called "Heartsongs," extending hope to people of all ages. "I really think I'm here for a purpose, because in my life I've had so many close calls to dying and I've come through them all," Mattie said. "I figured I have a purpose and I have to carry out that purpose."
On June 22, 2004, Mattie died in the arms of his mother at the age of 13. A few days later in his Maryland hometown, Oprah joined hundreds of Mattie's admirers to celebrate his life. When Mattie's hero, former President Jimmy Carter, spoke to the crowd, he said, "We have known kings and queens. We've known presidents and prime ministers. But the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life was Mattie Stepanek."