Mattie Stepanek

Program 58 • 29 mins


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On this episode of Humankind with David Freudberg, you’ll meet Mattie Stepanek, the best-selling eleven-year-old poet, and hear his moving story and learn about his powerful philosophy of “Heartsongs.” One of the remarkable things about Mattie is that he has maintained a positive attitude, despite the life-threatening challenges he has faced from his rare form of muscular dystrophy.

He breathes through a tracheotomy tube that is connected to an oxygen supply, and even though he has spent much of his young life in hospitals, he has always beaten the odds and the dire prognoses the doctors have given him. Mattie’s strength comes from his special view of humanity, his sense of humor and spirit, and his philosophy of “Heartsongs.” A “Heartsong” is your inner voice and true feelings spoken by your heart. He sees his role as someone who helps other people hear their “Heartsongs,” and through his poetry and public speaking engagements, he does just that.

It is clear that Mattie has developed some of his worldview from his mother, Jeni, whom we also visit with on this episode. She is in a wheelchair as well, and she shares Mattie’s disease; in fact, she lost three other children to it, and we’ll hear about the challenges she faces–both physical and emotional–in taking care of Mattie and getting through the difficult days. Mattie’s message is one of love and peace, and someday he hopes to become a peacemaker like his friend and hero Jimmy Carter.

Listen to his message and you’ll feel the power of a young boy’s heart and it may even help you hear your own “Heartsong”.


  • How does an eleven-year-old boy with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, who is connected to a breathing apparatus, and confined to a wheelchair, manage to write two New York Times’ bestsellers?
  • How can a positive attitude and life philosophy help one to overcome illness and despair?
  • What wisdom does Mattie Stepanek have to teach us about life, gratitude, and making peace in the world?
  • What is a person’s “Heartsong” and how can a one hear it?

We all have life storms. Times in our lives that are extremely sad, scary, angry. And instead of just suffering through them, and then afterwards just sitting, crying and waiting to be wiped out by the next one, we should celebrate together that we got through. And when the next one comes along, work through and pull through and celebrate again.”

—Mattie Stepanek on his philosophy of “Playing after every storm.”


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