The “sharks” of ABC’s Shark Tank are known for being a fearsome bunch. Just like real sharks, they’re meant to be ruthless and unforgiving. However, one of them recently proved that he’s as human as anyone else when he was alerted to an appalling crime.
Robert Herjavec, one of the business investors on Shark Tank, was watching television when a particular news segment about a cruel crime caught his eye. “I was having kind of a bad day. I wasn’t feeling great, I turn on the news and hear this story and I couldn’t believe it,” he would go on to tell Nancy Grace in July 2016.
And perhaps Herjavec was prompted to act after watching the story because he himself is no stranger to hardship. He grew up in Yugoslavia under a communist regime, seeing his father get incarcerated and threatened multiple times for criticizing the government. And when his family finally escaped the country in 1970, they had only a single suitcase and $20 with which to start their new lives.
Herjavec and his family finally made their home in Toronto but, nevertheless, found themselves still struggling. While still a young boy, in fact, Herjavec was living in a friend’s basement, surviving on very little money and only beginning to learn how to speak English. Yet he managed to rise from those tough beginnings to eventually become a multimillionaire.
Herjavec has never forgotten his roots, though. As he explained in a 2010 interview with Leaders magazine, “I don’t know how you could come from that background and not have empathy for people. I’m not a product just of myself; I’m a product of those who were kind enough to guide me along the way.” It’s perhaps no wonder, then, that he responded to the segment he watched in the way that he did.
And the story he saw was a truly shocking one. It involved a four-year-old boy called Liam Brenes, who was diagnosed with FATCO syndrome at birth. The rare condition leaves sufferers missing important bones in one or both of their legs, and this prevents them from being able to walk without aid. Liam himself has no fibula bone in his right limb, and as a result it was amputated when he was just a year old.
Little Liam, then, used two prosthetic legs in order to live his life to the full and play outside like other children. One of the limbs was an older model suitable for play in the water but too short for sustained use; the other was more up-to-date, lengthier and with a Star Wars motif.
And in the summer of 2016 Liam’s parents decided to do what many families do in the warm weather and take their kids to the beach. So, at Newport Beach, California’s Crystal Cove State Beach, they were investigating the rock pools and having a great time – until, that is, Liam’s father made a shocking discovery.
Liam’s dad Frank had left the family’s possessions – including Liam’s Star Wars leg – on the beach near where they were playing. But when he went to check on them, he found that they were gone. All gone, in fact: someone had taken not only the Brenes’ cameras and phones but Liam’s leg as well.
Naturally, Liam’s parents were beyond appalled at the callous theft. “It feels like someone took a piece of your child,” said his mother Amanda McFarland to The Orange County Register after the event. She was visibly devastated at what had been done to her son.
And Frank Brenes also had some conciliatory words to offer when talking to the newspaper. “I still have a little faith in humanity,” he said. “If you took the stuff, please, just find a way to get us the leg back.” Meanwhile, Liam’s older brothers, 11-year-old twins Aiden and Connor, were understandably angry, upset and sorry for Liam about what had happened.
Watching the story unfold on television, then, Robert Herjavec was furious, too. “It just broke my heart. I mean, to think about what the little boy has gone through,” he told Los Angeles news station KABC-TV. And while work was already being done to get Liam a new leg – a family friend had set up a GoFundMe account in order to help with the cost of dealing with the issue – he believed that Liam deserved better. So the multimillionaire prepared to step in.
Prosthetic legs cost at least $10,000, and that’s not even counting the money that almost anyone who needed one would have to spend on transportation to and from the hospital. Needless to say, then, that they don’t come cheap. The Brenes were therefore going to need a lot of help – but, luckily, Herjavec wasn’t the only one to have been moved by the story.
Palmdale, California-based Essential Orthotics and Prosthetics quickly got to work making not one but two new legs for Liam – one for everyday use and one suitable to use while in water – totally free of charge to the Brenes. And not only that, but the GoFundMe account quickly earned in excess of $16,000 – a long way past the project’s original goal of $10,000.
KABC-TV, meanwhile, had the cameras ready for when Liam received his new leg, decorated with the famous logo from his favorite movie, Ghostbusters, from Essential Orthotics and Prosthetics. The team at the company, led by fellow amputee Michael Metichecchia, worked around the clock to get it ready for Liam.
Liam had actually been told that he was only receiving a temporary leg – so the look on his face when he was told it was permanent, as well as Ghostbusters-themed, was something to see. His parents were also incredibly grateful. “I’m so ecstatic, so thankful,” dad Frank said to KABC-TV. But Herjavec’s surprise was still to come.
Liam may not have needed a leg anymore, but after being the victim of a horrible crime he deserved some fun and relaxation. This is where Robert Herjavec came in – and he went above and beyond. Just one day after his own wedding, in fact, he put on a huge party for Liam and his family.
Herjavec even bought toys – including Ghostbusters toys, of course – for Liam and his brothers. And when asked by ABC7 Entertainment why he wasn’t just relaxing with his new bride, the Shark Tank star answered, “If we have an opportunity to help, why wouldn’t we? And he’s such a good kid.”
Herjavec invited someone else to the party, too. That VIP was Noah Galloway of Dancing With the Stars fame, a double amputee – and living proof that losing a limb doesn’t have to hold a person back. Liam was over the moon to get to know him as well as to meet Herjavec.
Liam’s parents have now had their faith in humanity restored after the theft. Indeed, so much money was raised for him and his family that a lot of it is going to charity now. And more good things are to come: Herjavec is planning to take the Brenes to Disneyland soon. It’s fair to say, then, that the all-important “empathy for people” that he talked about has now become a gift to many.