Annual Heartsongs Luncheon Raises $78,000, Honors Inspiring Legacy of Former Patient

Attended by 160 people at the Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., the 15th annual Heartsongs Luncheon on March 9 raised $78,000 for Children’s National patients and families.

See photos here.

Heartsongs has raised more than $1.1 million since its inception, helping fund parent sleeper chairs and sofas, music and art therapy supplies, incubators for premature babies and other pieces of medical equipment, renovations to waiting rooms, an apartment for families who travel to Washington for medical care, and many additional items to help patients and families at Children’s National. “Sometimes we feel that as individuals, we can’t do much to change the world, but one act of kindness, like supporting Heartsongs and Children’s National, always has a ripple effect,” said Lisa Friedlander, one of the event’s volunteer leaders.

A fortuitous meeting nearly 17 years ago – two young boys in hospital beds next to each other –sparked the annual event, which honors the legacy of Mattie Stepanek, a Children’s National patient who passed away in 2004 and wished to be remembered as “a poet, philosopher, and someone who played.”

It all started when Lisa and her cousin Jillian Copeland both had children at Children’s National at the same time. Lisa’s daughter, Jaclyn, was in the neonatal intensive care unit, and Jillian’s son, Nicolas, was in the pediatric intensive care. Lisa remembers coming to visit Nicolas in the PICU on a particularly taxing day, and her spirits were lifted when she met Mattie, the 9-year-old in the bed next to Nicolas. “The second I met Mattie, I knew he was not your typical young man,” Lisa recalled. “His compassion knew no bounds, and he always put others’ needs, like our cousin Nicolas’s, before his own.”

Mattie had a rare disease known as dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, which causes muscle weakness and interruptions to automatic body systems such as breathing, processing oxygen, digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure. He had already lost his three siblings to the disease, but Mattie didn’t let the daunting road ahead stand in his way.

In his 13 years, Mattie wrote seven New York Times bestselling books of poetry—with forewords from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Jerry Lewis—inspiring thousands of people with his messages of hope, gratitude, and peace. “Stop, be silent, and notice…In so many ways, we are the same,” Mattie wrote at age 11. “Our differences are unique treasures. We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts to nurture, to offer, to accept.”

Mattie was an accomplished motivational speaker and a friend to many, including former President Carter, who delivered the eulogy at Mattie’s funeral in 2004, saying, “I have known kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, but the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life is Mattie Stepanek.”

Mattie was also a great friend to many at Children’s National, including Lisa, Jaclyn, Jillian, and Nicolas. Lisa wanted more people to meet Mattie, be inspired by him, and learn more about Children’s National’s care for children in our area. From that desire, the Heartsongs fundraising event was born, with the first luncheon taking place in 2003.

“Heartsongs is about gratitude and hope, two things Mattie had an abundance of in his short lifetime,” Lisa said. “It has been our mission to stay true to his desire to help children and families at Children’s National through their most trying of times.”

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