LONG STORY SHORT-ish || MIKE B's STORY

LONG STORY SHORT-ish.


AUGUST 6, 2020, BECAME THE SECOND WORST DAY OF MY LIFE. ELI HAD
BEEN FIGHTING ONE OF THE RAREST MITOCHONDRIAL DISORDERS FOR SIX
MONTHS.

BUT LET'S BACK UP A LITTLE BIT...

PRIOR TO THIS MOMENT, WITHIN THE LAST FEW YEARS, I LOST A GREAT
FRIEND, TRE HILL. I WAS JUST GETTING OVER A DIVORCE AND SHORTLY
AFTER FILED BANKRUPTCY. I DEFINITELY FELT DEFEATED, BUT THE DRINKING DIDN'T BEGIN THERE.

AS TIME MOVED ON, I MET A BEAUTIFUL GIRL AND SOON AFTER GOT
MARRIED. WE INTRODUCED OUR FIRST LEGACY INTO OUR FAMILY,
COULSON WALKER BELL.

WE WERE LIKE MANY COUPLES, LIVING PAYCHECK-TO-
PAYCHECK AND HAVING TO ASK FRIENDS AND FAMILY TO LOAN US MONEY TO PAY BILLS, TO GET FOOD AND DIAPERS. MOST OF US HAVE GONE THROUGH THAT AT SOME POINT IN OUR LIVES, SO I'M SURE YOU'RE THINKING, "GOD, I REMEMBER THOSE DAYS".

AS TIME PASSED, WE WERE NERVOUS AND ANXIOUS TO FIND OUT WE WERE
EXPECTING OUR SECOND LEGACY, ELIJAH LEE BELL.
I BEGAN TO THINK AT THIS POINT - “HOW AM I GOING TO SUPPORT A WIFE
AND TWO KIDS?” MY STRESS LEVEL WENT THROUGH THE ROOF, AND I WAS
STILL WORKING ON THE BRAND, BUT NOW I HAD TO REFOCUS MY PRIORITY. I WAS A MILITARY CONTRACTOR AT THE TIME, AND AFTER TALKING WITH MY WIFE, WE MADE A TOUGH CHOICE. I TOOK A POSITION AS A CONTRACTOR FOR THE U.S. AIR FORCE, MARINES, AND ARMY - IN AFGHANISTAN.

ELI WAS TO BE BORN ON SEPTEMBER 3, 2019, AND I WAS LEAVING ON AUGUST 8, JUST A MONTH BEFORE. I WAS DEVASTATED! I WAS NOT GOING TO BE THERE FOR HIS BIRTH. HOWEVER, WE WERE SO TIGHT ON MONEY THAT I HAD TO DO WHAT I FELT WAS NEEDED TO PROVIDE, SO I TRAVELED TO ANOTHER COUNTRY AND BEGAN WORKING.

OUR HANDSOME ELI WAS BORN SEPTEMBER 3, 2019. I WAS ABLE TO
FACETIME AND GET PICTURES THAT DAY, AND I REMEMBER THE GUILT I HAD
FOR NOT BEING THERE. BUT I KNEW THAT FINALLY, FINANCIALLY, WE WERE
GOING TO BE OKAY, AND MY FAMILY WOULDN'T BE STRUGGLING.

UNFORTUNATE TO SAY, I MISSED HIS BIRTH, THANKSGIVING, CHRISTMAS, AND NEW YEAR’S. SOME TIME IN FEBRUARY MY WIFE STARTED TO NOTICE LITTLE THINGS WITH ELI - THINGS YOU THINK NOTHING OF, LIKE IT BEING A LITTLE HARD TO HOLD HIS HEAD UP, MOVING AROUND AND HAVING BALANCE. WE JUST THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE A DELAY IN HIS MOVEMENTS, BUT LITTLE DID WE KNOW...THIS WAS WHERE #ELISTRONG BEGAN.

I WAS SCHEDULED TO COME HOME MARCH 1, 2020, AND NEVER WOULD I HAVE IMAGINED THAT MY FIRST TIME MEETING MY LITTLE CHAMP WOULD BE IN THE HOSPITAL.  MY WIFE TOOK ELI TO THE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL IN KNOXVILLE, TN WHERE SHE HAD MOVED TO WITH HER FAMILY AFTER I HAD LEFT. ON FEBRUARY 28, SHE CALLED ME, SAYING SHE REALLY THINKS SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH ELI. I JUST REMEMBER TEARING UP OVERSEAS, AND I STARTED MY GUILT TRIP, KNOWING I SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE WITH THEM. I TOLD MY WIFE, BREANNA, THAT I WAS PACKING UP AND ALREADY GETTING READY TO HEAD HOME ON A 26-HOUR FLIGHT. 

I LEFT KANDAHAR AND FLEW TO DUBAI, WHERE JUST BEFORE MY LONG
FLIGHT, I GOT A CALL ON FEBRUARY 29 FROM ‘BREE’ AND THE DOCTORS,
THAT ELI HAD STOPPED BREATHING, BUT THEY WERE ABLE TO GET A TUBE IN HIS THROAT SO THAT HE COULD BREATHE AGAIN. I WAS ALREADY HORRIFIED AT THIS POINT, BUT THEN THEY HIT ME WITH, "WE AREN'T SURE WHAT IS GOING ON AND WE CANNOT TELL WHAT YOU WILL BE COMING HOME TO". SO NOW I’M FREAKING OUT BECAUSE I'M NOT SURE IF I'M COMING HOME TO MY SON ALIVE OR TO HIM ALREADY BEING PASSED AWAY. (LONGEST FLIGHT OF MY LIFE!) 


MARCH I, 2020, THE PLANE LANDED IN KNOXVILLE, AND I RUSHED TO SEE ELI! THANKFULLY, THEY HAD HIM ALERT AND IN THE PICU. I WAS ABLE TO FINALLY HOLD MY BABY BOY FOR THE FIRST TIME - A BITTERSWEET MOMENT. THEY HAD FEEDING TUBES, WIRES, HOSES, AND A TON OF CRAP ON HIM THAT I HAD NO CLUE ABOUT AT THE TIME. ALL I KNEW WAS THAT GOD HAD ALLOWED ME TO SEE AND HOLD HIM - A DAD'S GREATEST MOMENT.  AS THE MONTHS WENT ON, I DIDN'T GO BACK TO WORK BECAUSE MY FOCUS WAS ALL ON ELI. MONTHS WENT BY, AND THEY CONTINUED TO TEST AND MONITOR HIM. BREE AND I TOOK TURNS SWITCHING OUT OF THE HOSPITAL BECAUSE THAT IS WHEN COVID BEGAN, AND EVERYONE WAS FREAKING OUT. SO, AFTER BEING GONE SO LONG, BREE AND I STILL BARELY SAW EACH OTHER AND WAS TAKING TURNS SPENDING TIME WITH ELI AND COULSON. 

FAST FORWARD ... AFTER THREE SURGERIES, THERAPY, AND US SLEEPING
ON THAT STUPID GREEN COUCH THAT THEY GIVE TO PARENTS, WE WERE
ABLE TO TAKE ELI HOME ON APRIL 15, 2020. HE WAS ON A VENTILATOR AND
HAD A G-TUBE FOR FEEDING, BUT WE WERE GOING HOME, TO MY IN-LAWS
HOUSE. I STARTED A NEW JOB AND WAS SWITCHING NIGHTS WITH BREE
MONITORING ELI BECAUSE OUR HOME HEALTH COMPANY WAS HORRIBLE -
MISSING DAYS, NOT SHOWING UP AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE FIRST
PERSON THEY SENT US WAS A SMOKER! BEING THE PATIENT PERSON THAT I AM, I CURSED THEM OUT AND WENT OFF THE HANDLE!


FAST FORWARD SOME MORE ... WE DEALT WITH TRACHEOTOMY CHANGES
AND HAVING TO CALL 911 A FEW TIMES AT NIGHT. BUT NOW IT WAS JULY, AND THE DISEASE BEGAN TO SPREAD. THE FIRST THING WE NOTICED WAS HIS BEAUTIFUL EYES CLOSED FOR THE LAST TIME. WE TOOK HIM TO THE
HOSPITAL WHERE THEY BEGAN MORE RESEARCH AND FOUND A
MITOCHONDRIAL DISORDER THAT WAS EXTREMELY RARE. ELI WAS THE
YOUNGEST PERSON IN THE WORLD TO HAVE IT. THEY BEGAN MORE TESTING AND DOCTORS FROM NEW YORK AND EUROPE BEGAN TO HELP WITH HIS CASE. THEY EVEN HAD A MEDICINE CREATED FOR HIM THAT THEY WEREN'T EVEN SURE IT WOULD HELP. BUT PARENTS, I'M SURE YOU CAN RELATE TO EVEN IF THERE WAS A 1% CHANCE OF HOPE, YOU WOULD TAKE IT. SO WE BEGAN TRIALS AND THE DOCTORS WAITED TO SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN. THIS IS THE PART OF THE STORY THAT TRULY BEGINS

THE CHANGE OF MY FAITH

UP UNTIL NOW I WAS PRAYING AND GIVING GOD ALL THAT I HAD, BELIEVING
ELI WAS GOING TO LIVE. I HAD A VISION THAT ONE DAY I WOULD BE SPEAKING TO HUNDREDS, IF NOT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, TELLING HIS STORY, HOW GOD TURNED EVERYTHING AROUND, AND EVEN THOUGH DOCTORS DECLARED DEATH, WE DECLARED LIFE! HOWEVER, UNFORTUNATELY, GOD HAD A DIFFERENT PLAN, A TEST OF TRUE FAITH.

ON AUGUST 6, 2020, WE WERE INFORMED THAT THERE WAS A DECISION TO
BE MADE. THE DISEASE HAD SPREAD TO ELI’S BRAIN, AND IT WAS JUST A
MATTER OF TIME BEFORE IT REACHED HIS OTHER ORGANS AND MUSCLES.
SO, A PARENT'S WORST NIGHTMARE CAME TRUE; IT WAS TIME TO MAKE A
CHOICE. OBVIOUSLY, I WAS NOT ABOUT TO MAKE HIS MOTHER DECIDE, SO IT WAS MY CALL TO MAKE. WHEN IT CAME TIME, I PICKED AUGUST 9, 2020. HE WAS STILL LOOKING GOOD AND WAS DOING OKAY, SO I WANTED TO REMEMBER SEEING HIM AT PEACE. 

ON AUGUST 8 OUR FAMILY CAME IN TO SAY THEIR GOODBYE’S, AND MY
MOTHER DEDICATED HIM TO THE ‘BIG MAN’ UPSTAIRS. IT WAS A ROUGH DAY, BUT I AM HAPPY THAT OUR FAMILY GOT TO SEE HIM ONE LAST TIME. THAT NIGHT WE WERE A LITTLE NUMB. WE GOT HIS FINGERPRINTS, HIS HAND AND FEET PRINTS, SOME PIECES OF HIS BLONDE HAIR, AND THEN WE SPENT THE REST OF THAT NIGHT, SLEEPING WITH HIM IN HIS BED. JUST A NUMB AND SAD NIGHT.

AUGUST 9, 2020, THE MOMENT CAME, THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE. WE HAD HIM DRESSED AND WAS PREPPING FOR THE MOMENT. THE DOCTORS AND THE NURSE CAME IN AND ASKED IF WE WERE READY. SO HESITANTLY, WE SAID YES, AND AT 11:15 AM THEY TOOK HIM OFF HIS VENTILATOR. WE HELD HIM, TELLING HIM THAT WE WERE SO PROUD OF HIM, AND THAT GOD HAS A PURPOSE IN THIS MOMENT. AT 11:57 AM, OUR ELI WENT PEACEFULLY, AND FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE FEBRUARY 28th, HE WAS 100% HEALTHY, IN HEAVEN, NO LONGER FIGHTING, AND NOW GOD WAS LOOKING AFTER HIM.

IN THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED, MY FAITH IN GOD WAS GONE. I TURNED TO DRINKING HEAVILY EVERYDAY - BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER! I WAS
NUMBING THE PAIN AND PAST QUESTIONING GOD, PRETTY
MUCH ASKING, “GOD, WHAT THE HECK, DUDE?.

I WANTED TO QUIT THE BRAND THAT I HAD SPENT EIGHT YEARS LEARNING
HOW TO CREATE. NOTHING MATTERED, JUST DRINKING. I STILL GAVE LOVE
TO MY WIFE AND COULSON, BUT THE REAL BATTLE WAS ME FIGHTING MY
GUILT OF NOT BEING THERE, CHOOSING THE DAY WE TOOK ELI OFF THE VENT AND EVERYTHING PRIOR. I SPENT HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS ON ALCOHOL THE FIRST MONTH AND MY ATTITUDE CHANGED, AND MY FAITH WAS NO MORE.

I AM GOING TO END IT WITH THIS HERE. THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN HARD. I
HAVE HAD TO FIGHT DEPRESSION, ANGER, BITTERNESS, FEAR, AND
ALCOHOL. THE BRAND HOWEVER IS ONE THING THAT CAME BACK TO MY
MIND. AGAIN, I SPENT EIGHT YEARS PREACHING ABOUT ‘STAYING DRIVEN,’ NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU, THAT YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING. THIS IS WHAT THE BRAND WAS CREATED TO DO, AND THEN IN MARCH 2021, |STARTED THINKING ABOUT ELI AND STAYING DRIVEN. I BEGAN TO LISTEN TO ERIC THOMAS, LES BROWN, WILL SMITH, AND ZIG ZIGLAR. I BEGAN TO RE-FEED MY MIND. I STARTED TO ASK GOD IF I WAS MEANT FOR ANYTHING, LET IT BE TO INSPIRE OTHERS TO KEEP MOVING. SO, I BEGAN TO REGROUP AND REBUILD MY FAITH AND THE BRAND. I BEGAN TO SEE THAT ELI WAS THE GREATEST MOTIVATION I WOULD HAVE. I WANT HIM LOOKING DOWN ON ME AND BEING PROUD THAT I CHOSE TO MOVE FORWARD, INSTEAD OF BEING CONSUMED WITH DARKNESS AND DEPRESSION. I TOOK BABY STEPS, AND I JUST SIMPLY STARTED TO MOVE FORWARD.

I WANTED TO BE PROOF THAT YOU CAN TRULY GO THROUGH THE WORST
THINGS THAT LIFE OFFERS AND EVEN THEN, FIND STRENGTH TO MOVE
ALONG. I STARTED WITH DRINKING A LOT LESS AND AGAIN WORKING ON MY FAITH AND BRAND. I CREATED ‘STAYDRVN’ FOR A REASON, AND I WANTED TO INSPIRE OTHERS TO KEEP MOVING, EVEN THOUGH THEIR PAIN MIGHT FIGHT THEM BACK. THE TRUTH IS: WE ALL DEAL WITH SOMETHING, WE HIDE FROM OTHERS, AND WE HOPE IT GOES AWAY. BUT YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE TO START FIGHTING BACK. CHOOSE TO LIVE FOR SOMETHING EVEN IF ONLY FOR YOURSELF. YOU HAVE PURPOSE, AND YOUR DESTINY IS WAITING ON YOU TO FIND IT, AS MUCH AS IT IS TRYING TO FIND YOU.


THIS IS MY STORY. THIS IS MY COMEBACK. I AM NOT PERFECT. I STILL FIGHT
THINGS LIKE YOU EVERYDAY. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT I AM CHOOSING TO FIGHT BACK, AND I AM FIGHTING TO BE BETTER! AS MY FAITH REBUILDS, SO IS MY HOPE AND MY SPIRIT. I CREATED ‘STAYDRVN’ FOR YOU! I WANT YOU TO WIN! I WANT YOU TO FIGHT, EVEN IF YOU’RE TIRED, DRAINED, DEPRESSED, BROKE, JOBLESS, DIVORCED, FILING BANKRUPTCY, CUTTING, DRINKING,
DEALING WITH DRUGS, LYING,  FIGHTING ADULTERY, OR A VICTIM OF RAPE OR ANY TYPE OF ABUSE! YOUR STORY HAS A PURPOSE BEHIND IT! YOU AND I WERE MADE TO INSPIRE OTHERS, TO HELP OTHERS KNOW THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

TOGETHER, WE CAN OVERCOME OUR DEMONS

THIS BRAND JUST WANTS TO INSPIRE. IF GOD ALLOWS US TO DO IT FULL
TIME, THEN THAT IS A BLESSING. BUT UNTIL THEN, I AM MORE THAN HAPPY
BUILDING SOMETHING WHICH YOU CAN WEAR THAT ENCOURAGES YOU TO
MOVE ON ...

SO START FIGHTING BACK! OVERCOME YOUR BATTLES …. ‘STAYDRVN’ .... AND REMEMBER THERE IS MORE TO YOUR STORY THEN YOU KNOW, A FIGHT IN YOU THAT IS READY.

THERE IS A VERSION OF #ELISTRONG IN YOU... IT AIN'T OVER TIL IT'S OVER.

WELCOME TO MY STORY AND WELCOME TO STAYDRVN®, the MOST INSPIRING BRAND®.

#FORELI