Be Your Own Hero: Brave Like Wyatt


Wyatt Hatcher was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a Congenital Heart Defect. Numerous surgeries, and a heart transplant, allowed him to live 11 beautiful, active years. Now, just months after his passing, Wyatt’s family seeks to honor his name and help other families facing difficult and trying times through a foundation established in his honor.

 

Wyatt’s Story Begins

Just four days after his birth, Wyatt had the first of two open-heart surgeries. His mom, Jessica, shared that these surgeries “rerouted his circulation and have the right side of his heart do the job of both sides.”

Miraculously, he had a heart transplant just before his second birthday. Jessica stated, “A transplant is not a cure, with the average heart lasting only 17 years before needing another transplant, but it saved his life.” 

Unfortunately, lab work numbers during a routine visit in February 2019 indicated something was not quite right. After being admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, he received his diagnosis: stage 3, Post-Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disorder.

PTLD is a type of cancer (Lymphoma) that only attacks transplant recipients. Ironically, this cancer occurs due to the immune suppressant medications taken to ensure the body doesn’t reject the organ. The cancer is similar to the more widely known Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His cancer was located in multiple organs. He was able to start treatment that night.

By all means, Wyatt lived up to his name as a “brave warrior.” (Photo Credit: Jessica Hatcher)

Wyatt’s young body went through four rounds of chemotherapy. Jessica shared, “The plan was to have seven days on chemo inpatient in the hospital and 14 days off where he recovered at home.”

In reality, they were never able to stay home for the full 14 days.

A severe urinary tract infection followed his initial round of chemotherapy. Round two required Wyatt to have a patient-controlled morphine pump after developing mucositis. This a painful inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract. It typically occurs in response to chemotherapy. After the third round, he became septic and spent considerable time in ICU. 

Wyatt rings the bell as a cancer survivor. (Photo credit: Jessica Hatcher)

Wyatt was cleared for round four, scheduled for June 2019. Astonishingly, two months later, Wyatt rang the bell as a cancer survivor.

After routine tests in the fall of 2019 declared his heart healthy and body clear of all other diseases, Jessica exclaimed, “Our boy was healthy! He won!”

 

Wyatt’s Earthly Time Ends

For Thanksgiving, the Hatcher family celebrated on Tybee Island. Looking back, Jessica admitted, “Something was off. He wasn’t himself and tired all the time.”

On December 7, 2019, the family checked Wyatt into CHOA again. Consequently, tests revealed the chemotherapy, while it fought his cancer, in turn, it damaged his donor heart. A diagnosis of Anthracycline Toxicity has the potential to correct itself. However, that would not be the case for Wyatt. 

In spite of seizures and coding multiple times, Wyatt’s medical team stabilized him and his family celebrated Christmas together. “…CHOA allowed us to pile our whole family, myself, my husband, and our 5 children, in [a hospital room] to spend the night. It was comical and ridiculous and beautiful. I will cherish it always. We thought we were winning,” Jessica reminisced. 

The first week of the new year brought more trouble. Wyatt’s heart struggled despite the medications pumped into his body. 

Jessica shared that the family decided on January 9th to stop the medications and “give him the dignity to pass in peace.” 

She continued, “Wyatt passed away in the early morning hours of January 10 in his Father’s arms, with me by his side and all of his siblings in a makeshift overnight room created by the CICU staff. We were all together. While my wish was to bring Wyatt home and have him there for the end, things just didn’t work out that way…the fact that we were all together, comforts me.”

In the face of adversity, Wyatt could still be seen with a smile. (Photo Credit: Jessica Hatcher)

Wyatt’s Story Continues

Given his cancer diagnosis, Wyatt’s family set out to create a motto to help traverse the valleys of their journey. Wyatt means “brave warrior” and Jessica acknowledged it was the perfect way to describe their son. 

She shared that Wyatt was the creator of the motto #BraveLikeWyatt and that their family took that challenge, “to be Brave Like Wyatt no matter the situation, no matter what life throws at you.”

 

The NASCAR Connection

Wyatt’s uncle, Marcus Barela, owns FR8 Auctions which is based in Georgia. Certainly, FR8 Auctions is not new to NASCAR.

In fact, Barela and his company have worked with Front Row Motorsports and sponsored Michael McDowell, among other drivers, over the years. 

Jessica recounted how Barela texted her a mock-up of a race car. Accompanying the picture was a note that read, “This is going to run in Atlanta. I don’t know if you’re ready for this, but I really feel like this is the time to take Brave Like Wyatt and run with it.” 

She admitted her initial thought was, “‘No way.’ I just lost my son. This was fresh. This grief was (and is) consuming.”

Nevertheless, once she stepped back, the answer was obvious. Wyatt would want this, plain and simple. Moreover, since day one, his life was about helping others.

She shared, “After he was born I was on the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee that added pulse ox screening to the mandatory newborn screening panel in Georgia. Since 2015, all newborns are tested for heart defects like Wyatt’s. We’ve been involved in other programs to help the hospital. This has just always been what we do and that shouldn’t change now. Wyatt will always be helping others, whether he is here physically or not.”

Knowing that they could not pass up an opportunity to feature his foundation on such a huge platform, the Hatcher’s agreed to it. 

McDowell’s No. 34 will feature #BraveLikeWyatt at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His family will take in the whole weekend, and spread awareness about the foundation, as guests of Front Row Motorsports and the No. 34 team.

Michael McDowell will sport the FR8 Auction scheme and carry #BraveLikeWyatt onboard his No. 34 Ford Mustang at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Graphic provided by Shawn Magee/SMD Racing)

While Wyatt did not have a favorite driver, his parents have been long-time fans of the sport. They have attended many races at AMS and spent years cheering on NASCAR legends Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 

 

“This is our mission.”

Be Your Own Hero: Brave Like Wyatt formed with the basis of inspiring families through strength. Although Jessica admits this looks different for each family, she shared the difficulties families face awaiting transplants, as well as those battling Leukemia or Lymphoma, and the duration of time spent in the hospital.

Be Your Own Hero seeks to relieve the burden of the “extras” such as, but not limited to, meals, laundry, and travel expenses. 

Confessing how hard it was for their family, Jessica shared, “Over the last year, we spent a cumulative total of six months in the hospital. We have five children. We had to balance taking care of Wyatt and making sure someone was there to be with him while taking care of our other kids and meeting their needs.”

Jessica continued to list the hardship, stating, “Two parents driving back and forth to the hospital every day, a father spending every night at the hospital away from his family to be with Wyatt, a mother basically being a single mom of four at night, entertaining a toddler and caring for a sick child in the hospital every day, two cars making round trips every single day, figuring out meals and the expense of feeding on the go.” 

She explained their hospital had washing machines and dryers so they could do their laundry on long stays, but they needed to provide their own detergent. The Hatcher’s do not want families to have to decide between doing much-needed laundry or putting fuel in their vehicle to visit their child. 

Additionally, she said, “These are the details of caring for a chronically ill child. We experienced it first hand and want to make it easier for families like ours. This is our mission.”

 

Support Rolls On

Through the foundation, the Hatcher family hopes to meet many other, unseen needs of these families. They recently held a food drive to restock the pantries providing free food to those staying at the hospital long-term.

Currently, a laundry drive is happening to collect detergent, dryer sheets, and more. Future plans include a collection of restaurant and gas station gift cards.

Furthermore, they are working with restaurants near their hometown to sponsor children for Camp Braveheart. Camp Braveheart is an overnight camp for children with heart defects in Rutledge, GA. Jessica noted that Wyatt absolutely loved attending this camp.

By all means, iPads for Kids is another case close to Jessica’s heart. While it might seem a “frivolous” need, she saw firsthand how a gifted iPad encouraged and brought a smile to Wyatt’s face.

Specifically, he was able to message friends, listen to music during treatments, and use a tracking app to ‘watch’ his parents drive to see him.

Personally, Jessica obtained quick access to Wyatt’s medical charts and lab results with the iPad. She said, “It was a tool for our family and we really believe that all families should have the tools they need to be brave. And to be brave you need to be informed, educated, entertained, and empowered. This is what we want to be able to do for families like ours.”

 

Get Involved

Donations and sponsors are needed for all of this to happen. She explained that those interested can donate via PayPal or credit card at Brave Like Wyatt

Gift cards for food and gas can be mailed directly to the foundation at 5359 Rabbit Farm Rd. Loganville, GA, 30052.

To stay up-to-date on what the foundation is doing for those in need, you can sign up for the #BraveLikeWyatt newsletter.

Furthermore, follow #BraveLikeWyatt, Michael McDowell, Front Row Motorsports, and FR8 Auctions on Twitter to follow along during the Folds of Honor/Quik Trip 500 Weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. 

Terra Jones

As a life-long NASCAR fan and lover of words, I'm fortunate enough to put the two together here at The Podium Finish to bring our readers and motorsports fans news, features, and interviews from the world of wheels. Originally from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, I moved westward to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University. I now reside in central North Carolina with my husband, our three boys, and our dog, Charlotte. While my heart is at the race track, I also enjoy watching baseball, as well as college football and basketball. 

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