Jimmy Carter, Oprah Remember Child Poet
Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Carter were both on hand to pay tribute to Mattie, who became a best-selling writer and a prominent voice for those suffering from muscular dystrophy. Mattie died of complications related to the genetic disease that had impaired most of his body's functions, a rare form of MD called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy.
"From the very first moment I met Mattie on my show three years ago, I fell in love with him," Winfrey told mourners in a short tribute before the funeral Mass began. "I could not believe so much wisdom and power, so much grace and strength and love could come from one 10-year-old little boy."
Carter delivered a 25-minute eulogy at the service. "I've known kings and queens and prime ministers but the most extraordinary person I have ever known in my life was Mattie Stepanek," the former U.S. president began.
Carter said he met Mattie in 2001, after being contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who said it had a request from a dying 10-year-old boy to meet Jimmy Carter. At the time, Mattie was near death from internal bleeding, but after the Carter visit Mattie recovered, and began a correspondence that Carter said left him with a two-inch-thick stack of letters.
Firefighters and paramedics from numerous Maryland counties showed up to honor Mattie, who was a huge fan of firefighters. After the service, Mattie's casket was loaded onto a fire truck draped in black for the ride to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Md. as bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."
Mattie is survived by his mother, Jeni, 44, who has the adult-onset form of muscular dystrophy; his three older siblings died of it in early childhood.
Mattie began writing poetry at age 3 to cope with the death of a brother. In 2001, a small publisher issued a slim volume of his poems, called Heartsongs. Within weeks, the book reached the top of bestseller lists. He wrote four other books: Journey Through Heartsongs, Hope Through Heartsongs, Celebrate Through Heartsongs and Loving Through Heartsongs.
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