April 13, 2010

Inspired by young cancer patient, Yankees’ Mark Teixeira shares life lesson

Posted: 02:54 PM ET

By Jason Rovou, Larry King Live Producer

Brian Ernst loved baseball.  He loved playing it, he loved talking about it and he loved to think about his future in the sport.  As a star pitcher for his school team at West Hall High School in Oakwood, Georgia, he had hoped to play in college and fantasized about playing in the majors. 

So it was no surprise that the 19-year-old asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation to meet his favorite player, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, as he battled the cancer that would eventually take his life in March. 

Teixeira, who has routinely taken time to meet many kids in similar situations during his years as a professional player, said it was a meeting he would never forget.

“I’ve visited hospitals before and worked with Make-A-Wish foundation.  You think you’re giving a kid something, but after I left Brian, he gave me something,” he said.  “I think he gave me much more than I gave him.”

Brian had originally wanted to come to Yankee Stadium in The Bronx and play catch with Teixeira but his failing health prevented any trips.  So instead the Yankee went to Children’s Hospital in Atlanta to visit Brian in February.

As Teixeira arrived at the hospital, he said he was met by a representative of Make-A-Wish, who told him that Brian had taken a turn for the worse and may not be able to see him in person.  But, he said, something happened in the five minutes it took to walk from the parking lot to Brian’s room.

“I walked in and Brian had sat up in bed, had put on his Yankees jersey and was ready to hang out with me,” Teixeira said.  “And his father told me that in the last couple of days, Brian had never been that responsive and wasn’t able to hold a conversation like that.  It was a true miracle.”

Despite being in and out of consciousness for days, Brian was able to have a two-hour conversation with his baseball hero.  They talked about sports – baseball, basketball and football.  They talked about playing college baseball.  But more than anything, Teixeira was struck by Brian’s hope and his desire to help other people – especially children – who were battling similar diseases.

“The most important thing we talked about was how his faith had gotten him through this experience in dealing with cancer.  More importantly, how he affects other people and brings inspiration to other people with this terrible disease,” Teixeira said.


Brian’s mother, Donna Ernst suggested fate played a part in bringing her son and his baseball hero together.

“Watching the whole thing was just incredible.  It amazed me of how of all the players he could have picked, Mark was special,” Brian’s mom, Donna Ernst said.  “And I’m convinced there’s a special reason those two came to meet that day.”

Brian was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that is found in the bone or soft body tissue, just after his 17th birthday.  And despite making progress with treatment early on, the cancer eventually returned and spread throughout his body. 

When all medical options were exhausted, his mother said it was her responsibility to tell her son the bad news.  But she was surprised by how it went; that instead of the family comforting Brian that day, Brian comforted his family.  “What I thought was going to be the worst day of our lives, Brian gave a blessing to each one of us,” Donna remembered. 

His father, Steve Ernst, added, “Here we are, at the lowest points in our lives at this moment and he’s comforting us by explaining that he’s not afraid.  That he’s going to be okay.”

During his time at the hospital, Brian helped cheer up young children who had cancer.  He told his parents that one day he wanted to be able to spread the message of living with childhood cancer and help people understand it better.

It was that kind of optimism and maturity that stayed with Teixeira long after his visit with Brian.   “I just put myself in Brian’s shoes.  How would I react ten years ago if that was me,” Teixeira wondered. 

He was so moved and touched by Brian’s story that he is paying tribute to the young man who was not able to live his own dream by writing Brian’s baseball number in his own Yankee hat.

“Brian wore number 5 on the baseball field.  He was a great baseball player,” Teixeira said.  “I put number five in my baseball hat.  And I wrote next to it ‘faith’ and his name next to that.”

Teixeira has stayed in touch with Brian’s family since his death and brought Brian’s parents to New York over the weekend to be his special guests at the Yankee’s home opener Tuesday in The Bronx.  After the game, he plans to present his hat, the one with Brian’s number on it, to his parents.

Steve and Donna realize the importance and the symbolism of the trip to Yankee Stadium, the one that their son was not able to make himself.  “That’s going to be a very emotional experience for us.  It’s going to be very bittersweet,” Steve said.  “We’re doing it, we’re going to be there for our son.”

Teixeira said he wants to spread Brian’s message, hoping to inspire other people to make the most of their lives.  “It puts everything in perspective.  You know, I play baseball,” Teixeira said.  “I play baseball and people cheer me on.  And they’re entertained for a few hours.  But Brian changed lives.  He really did.  What Brian can do, compared to what I can do – it really doesn’t compare.  He’s an amazing person.”

“Brian didn’t lose his battle with cancer.  He won the battle. It didn’t break him down.  He showed everybody that you can live through cancer and make a difference and inspire people no matter what circumstance you have,” Teixeira said.  “And that will always stay with me.”

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HEALER OF BROKEN HEARTS:   April 13th, 2010 3:15 pm ET

Our heart and prayers go out to this family and friends. Jesus is the only one who can heal the broken hearts. Takes much time and crying out. May he heal yours. We know to well the pain death brings. I only share this to let this family and others know who have gone through similar things. My wife lost her mother through Stomach Cancer, next year we lost her Dad, the next year I lost my Mother through cancer, the next year my Dad through a nine year battle of Melanoma cancer. We prayed for a brake in sorrow but not for the break we got. On our way to a funeral my wife stepped off the curb fell and broke both ankles. Six surgeries in one year. It turned our lives upside down severely for about 9 months but really forever. It has given us so much compassion for those going through hardship.

Maria Copelli   April 13th, 2010 3:21 pm ET

Thank you for sharing this story ,it is always heartwarming to know those who are famously busy ,sacrifice some time to visit htese dear people,esp the children,who have their lioves 'snatched' form them as it were by these ,horrible life altering illnesses!
These are the kinds of theses Michale Jackson has done over the years ,he unselfishly gave of his time ,resources ,even giving the entire profits fro many of his concerts to help out with causes so very close to his beautiful heart !
The news medias would be so much more enjoyable to see and hear and read ,if...... they would report the Truth ...and share somepositive stories ! Love to all! Maria C.

Joe G. (Illinois)   April 13th, 2010 5:58 pm ET

This article is very unclear.. They could be more clear and open about what they want to say.. Are they saying that baseball is a religion? And that Brian’s Ernst love and faith for the sport is to be praised? Admired? Cherished? Remembered?

Steve Ernst   April 13th, 2010 8:55 pm ET

Yes Brian was a gifted athlete but his faith in the Lord transended the sport. It was his faith that enabled him to endure two years of horrendous chemo and radiation treatments. It was his faith that enabled him to reach out to younger cancer patients to try to put a smile on their faces. Did he and Mark Teixeira talk about a game they both love......yes. But more importantly they talked at length about another common bond.......Jesus Christ. Judging from your snide comments, you've been spared the emotional pain of loosing of losing a child or any life threatening situation. You are the one that seems to have missed the message being conveyed. The article was well written and we thank Mr. Rovou for taking time to write it.

Steve and Donna Ernst
Brian's parents

The article was well written.

Cindy   April 13th, 2010 10:06 pm ET

This was a very inspiring story. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Ernst family. I can only imagine the pride you have in your son, Brian, as well as his friend, Mark.

U really didn't get it Joe?   April 14th, 2010 12:54 am ET

"The most important thing we talked about was how his faith had gotten him through this experience in dealing with cancer...." Mark is sharing the impact of meeting this young man, hearing him speak of his faith and desire to help other children diagnosed with cancer. A great message to be carried forward by those who were touched by Brian's spirit and may it please God that it continues to touch many more for His glory! Hope that clarifies it for you, Joe from IL – seemed pretty clear to me. Thanks to those posting this blog and sharing a bit of Brian's story!

moe abdou   April 14th, 2010 2:08 am ET

Mark is a classy guy and amazing talent. His persona continues to be elevated because you can always find him doing good....I'm sure the faith conversation can be interpreted from various angles; however, the key insight is that a kid got to meet and chat with his hero. Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, that seems the exception and certainly not the rule. If more athletes can understand the power a simple autograph or an acknowledgment can have on a kid, perhaps more of them would offer that bit of gratitude on a regular basis, like Mark or his teammate Jeter...Ben Roethlisberger are you listening?

Judy Rouse   April 14th, 2010 7:30 am ET

Although I never met Brian personally, i followed his story on Carepages and through one of his high school teachers, who is a member of my church.
I can understand how Mark left Brian feeling that he has receive a gift.
I got that every time his Mom posted about him–his love of others, his sharing of his faith, his TOTAL dedication to making life better for other children with cancer, was all the result of his faith in Christ Jesus and his calm assurance that he would forever be at peace and pain free.

Brian Ernst was and is a hero-I am at a loss as to how anyone could read that article and wonder about his "religion".
Steve and Donna, you were blessed and continue to be blessed by Brian's life!

HEALER OF BROKEN HEARTS:   April 14th, 2010 8:24 am ET

Steve & Donna, our prayers are with you, yourfamily and extended family.

Tammy Lovelady   April 14th, 2010 9:26 am ET

Joe from Illinois – I hope you read this post!
I had the privilege of knowing Brian very well and I can assure all readers that Brian's faith rested completely in Jesus Christ. It was his faith in God that got him through his suffering and helped him maintain his positive attitude. It was his faith in God that allowed him to take something negative and turn it into something positive. Because of Brian's strong spiritual relationship with Christ, which was evident in his daily life, countless numbers of people, both young and old grew closer to God or began a personal relationship with God for the first time. As for baseball, Brian was a young man with a dream. He had set goals and worked very hard toward achieving them. Mark Teixeira was like a role model to Brian. He went to GA Tech, where Brian aspired to attend College and he had made it to MLB which was another big goal Brian was working toward. This article was about how to live one's life in the face of adversity. It's about how a famous baseball player like Mark is trying to help people see what is really important in life. It's about honoring the lord by being all you can be wether you're at the pinnacle of success or fighting for your life.
Joe – may God soften your heart so that you can understand the message here.

Tiffany Miller   April 14th, 2010 10:34 am ET

Brian is a friend of my daughters, that child and his family have touched so many lives. What a wonderful thing this is, Brian's legacy. His family are such good, kind, inspiring people....who raised this INSPIRATIONAL young man. Thank you from all or us who know what the Ernst Family has been and are going through. Thank you for helping these wonderful people carry on Brian's messege. He was, NO, HE IS a true life picture of STRENGTH, COURAGE, SELFLESSNESS, and GRACE. The lives that Brian and the Ernst Family have touched and will continue to touch are to many to count. With the help of people like you Larry and Mark Teixeria Brians voice will still be heard. Thank you again, thank you to everyone who has helped make this possible for this WONDERFUL family and for this WONDERFUL young man BRIAN ERNST.

RT   April 14th, 2010 11:11 am ET

Ernst family, been keeping up with your heart felt messages on the care pages website. I know you've been wondering exactly what to do, where to go and how will you get there. It's beginning to be evident that through the will of God he is guiding you every step of the way. What a tremendous article this was portraying the wonderful person that Brian had become. His spirit will continue to live on through those whose lives have been touched by such a vibrant young man. And Mark, what a blessing it is to see a professional athlete take such an interest in a person's life in a world that is filled with so much self gratification. I really believe you get it. It's not about baseball or the material things of this life, it's about reaching out and making a difference in someones life. God has blessed you with a position in which you have the opportunity to make a difference. God bless you brother for taking advantage of that opportunity. I know that meant the world to Brian and his family. For those who have never dealt with this kind of tragedy, faith is what gets you through, knowing that our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ is there for you each and every minute of every day. Well written article sharing how God works in mysterious ways to comfort those who trust in Him. God Bless to all involved in continuing to share the story of Brian's life that has touched so many. Praying that the Lord will continue to comfort and strenghten you all in the days to come. God Bless!

Judi Pontonio   April 14th, 2010 12:24 pm ET

First, let me clarify my position. I have worked in the same room with Brian's mother, Donna, for the past five years and my husband was Brian's high school baseball coach. So, when I speak, it is with personal knowledge of Brian's personal journey...before the cancer and after the diagnosis. The article is very clear to me, but it is only the tip of the iceberg of who Brian Ernst really was. He lived the life of a Christian everyday. He was kind, humble, friendly and fortunate to be athletically and intelligently gifted. He realized that all these traits were gifts. Gifts that he wanted to share not keep for himself. On the baseball field and in the classroom, He was a leader that was respected by all who knew him. Before Brian met Mark, he knew all about him, his achievements and strong religious beliefs. That is one reason that he wanted to meet his be able to share common interests in sports and religion. I feel that Brian was looking for an avenue through which to help others, especially children, keep hope and faith. I know that he found the avenue through his personal experience with Mark Teixeira. I am sure Mark as well as all others who knew Brian will carry on his unselfish wish to help others keep hope and faith that a cure will be found for this horrible disease. Athletes have been blessed with a special responsibility. They affect many people with their actions as well as with their words. Brian knew this and wanted his message that being "good, smart and religious" are admirable traits that no one should be ashamed of exhibiting. Mark Teixeira is one of those athletes who recognize this responsibility. I am sure that there are many more who presently speak up for important causes and others who now will be willing to share their influence to positively help others. For this, I thank Mark Teixeira for being the spark that lights the fires.

Jim Carroll   April 14th, 2010 1:56 pm ET

The big lie about the national debt, deficit spending and social
security going broke: go to and see for


Steve & Donna our prayers are with you and your family.

Ben Hildebrant   April 14th, 2010 3:24 pm ET

I had the amazing privilege of being one of Brian's friends in high school. I suffered spinal chord injury the summer before my junior year, about 10 months before Brian was diagnosed and he was a great inspiration. By the time he was diagnosed, I had been blessed enough to be walking by the time of Brian's diagnosis and got to visit him at his house. I also got to witness his recovery and got to talk to him for maybe 2 hours one night this past summer about how great God is. That is my fondest memory of him. I remember that conversation vividly. His faith was so strong. We talked about how God was gonna use each others stories to change lives. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to see him in his final days, but the stories I heard were so inspiring. I heard numerous stories of how he encouraged so many other people when he was staring in the face of cancer. I know how much he encouraged me. His faith is something that all of us can strive to mimic.

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   April 15th, 2010 5:37 am ET

An inspirational story we can all learn the power of positive thinking and to have faith and not give up on life. Where there is a will there is a way, I believe.

Donna Ernst   April 15th, 2010 11:23 am ET

Dearest Joe from Illinois,
Let me try to make things a little "clearer" for you since you seem to be having a little trouble with your comprehension.
Brian is just one of many children that suffer from and eventually lose their lives to some of these rare but horribly aggressive cancers. One of the things Brian wanted to do more than anything if he was able to go into remission, was to help get attention drawn to childhood cancers, to which only 1% of funding goes into research. Fortunately, approximately 80% of childhood cancers are now curable. It's the types, like Brian had, Ewing's Sarcoma and other forms of sarcomas and various other rare aggressive types that are not only unknown, but any money raised for research has to be privately donated. Brian wanted to be able to put a face on these cancers by telling his story to in turn help the thousands of other children suffering the same. Mark was gracious enough to help get his story out there as his own life has been affected by cancer within his own family. Brian did not, in any way, want to "worship" baseball or anything else except God, It was because of his faith and his compassionate and giving heart that he wanted to find a way to help and one of those ways was by telling his story. I'm so sorry for you that you did not "get it". You obviously have never been inside the oncology ward of a children's hospital. I personally invite you to visit one to see if perhaps, somewhere in your cold heart, that might help you "get it". I am so thankful for Mark, who has been so gracious enough to help get Brian's story told so that more attention can be brought to childhood cancers. The goal of Brian's story was not only to bring attention to this but to also inspire others going though the fight with this horrendous disease. My goal, in honor of Brian, is to continue to tell his story to help raise awareness for other children in this fight. If you still don't "get it", you never will, and if that's the case, you are the one I feel sorry for, not all of the thousands of brave, courageous children that are fighting cancers every day. I truly hope you never have to watch someone you love tortured with this devastating disease, There are many other things that come to mind that I could say to you, but my son would have been the first one to show his maturity and grace to say, "mom., I don't want people, even those who are so cold-hearted, feeling sorry for me, I feel sorry for them".

Jessica Hollis   April 15th, 2010 6:44 pm ET

you go Donna 🙂

Brian was and will always be an amazing person, athlete, and above all, my friend. He will always be treasured in the hearts of us all. His story is going to reach great lengths to bring the glory to God!

Thanks to Mark Teixeira and Larry King for getting this out!!!!!!!!!!

Wendy Frazier   April 15th, 2010 11:15 pm ET

Steve and Donna,

I left a message on Brian's carepage, but I just want to say again how wonderful Brian is for me to be able to hear about his faith in God and his love for everyone, even people he doesn't know:) I am sorry that he passed away, but I want to thank you for being great parents to him. Thank you for sharing how amazing God was with him, and now he has shared his faith with so many, many people. Not only is Brian an awesome testimony for the love that God has for us, but you guys are as well. I will keep praying for your family!!!!!!! I am still amazed at how he helped Monica when she was diagnosed this past year. He is a special, special person, and it is awesome to know that he is alive and with Christ now!

With love,
Wendy Frazier

Chris   April 16th, 2010 8:49 pm ET

First, let me say that this is an amazing story and it brought tears to my eyes. What an inspiring young man.

At the same time, this is - a forum where people can post replies about stories they've read. It's not Facebook, where presumably everyone is friends with each other (or friends of friends). I can't imagine what Brian's parents are going through. But with all due respect, I'm not sure posting replies criticizing people who have read and responded to this article is the best approach to take. Why accuse Joe of being cold-hearted just because he questioned the clarity of the article? The article mentions faith a couple of times in passing and never makes explicit mention of Christianity - I can see where a quick read-through by someone who didn't know Brian might leave a reader wondering.

I really don't think the comments section of a CNN story is the appropriate place for bonding and grief work. It's a place for, well, comments about the story. By readers. Not just readers who are personally involved.

jun ggggg   April 19th, 2010 12:33 am ET

Well you cant blame these superathletes to be snobs ,they got everything going their way. money, fame ,people idolizing them – i think 99.9% of us would act the way they do if we have what they have. Unfortunately same worldly things will destroy them too. Guest what they say is right -everything in excess is bad for you. Spread the wealth baby, donate some to me plsssss LOL So superathletes be wise ok?? All these things will be gone sooner or later.

ms. johnson   November 27th, 2010 7:02 pm ET

As a mother of a potentially fatal condition of my daughter and recepient of Make-A-Wish. It is those children that really teach us and encourage us to live, really live. We dont take small accomplishments for granted. We appreciate every sunrise and thank god each day for another day with my daughter. What makes this story so touching is that I come from a long family history of Yankee fans. My daughter looks like Texiera too. We joke about it. I understand the bittersweet situation for the parents. It's ok to enjoy life and go to Yankee Stadium and have a blast. Take in all the sights,smells and sounds. Do it for Brian!! Love those class-act Yankees. Good story. God bless!

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