Marissa English often kissed the Keith Urban T-shirt that lay on her pillow and had been looking forward to seeing her “Mr Hottie” in an upcoming concert. However, when her fragile health took a turn for the worse, that live date looked like being a distant dream. But then Marissa’s nurses contacted Urban and the country star stepped up to give the dying 25-year-old a wonderful surprise.
Marissa, from Bowling Green, Ohio, was born with multiple health problems including cerebral palsy and a cyst on her brain. She also suffers from scoliosis, a condition that means her spine is twisted rather than being straight. Evidently, the fact that she’s survived all this to see the age of 25 is pretty miraculous.
Marissa’s various medical conditions meant she couldn’t leave hospital for some five months after she was born. And when it was time for her to finally go home, doctors told her mom, Marlise Matthews, to “enjoy her” while she could. The prognosis was grim: Marissa might only have a year to live.
What soon became apparent, though, is that Marissa is something of a fighter. That year came and went, and then another, and then another. In fact, Marissa has seen 25 years come and go, and while she might not be described as going strong, she is still going. What is also apparent is that Marissa is something of a megafan of country superstar Keith Urban. She’s been to his concerts with her mom and she’s got stacks of memorabilia: T-shirts, posters, pictures, you name it. It’s quite a collection and one she proudly displayed on a Facebook picture in 2014.
Among the merchandise is one particular keepsake that she holds very dear. Speaking to news station WTOL-11, mom Marlise said, “She has a T-shirt that we put on a pillow that’s beside her all the time. It’s actually cute, because she’ll pick up the pillow and hug it and kiss it [and] … she’ll point at it and say ‘Mr. Hottie.’”
Keith Urban, the object of Marissa’s affections, was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, in 1967. Brought up in Australia, he’s been making music for some 30 years, having released his first album back in 1988. Following the album’s success in Australia, Urban made the big move to Nashville, Tennessee, where his band The Ranch soon began to garner a following. After the band’s acclaimed debut, Urban turned solo and in 2007 released a Greatest Hits package. The country star is currently part way through his Graffiti U world tour – named after his latest album.
Aside from his music, the four-time Grammy winner also likes to help good causes. His “All for the Hall” fund-raising shows, featuring fellow country star Vince Gill, have helped raise more than $2.6 million for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Urban also sits on the board of children’s hospital St. Jude’s in an advisory role.
Urban’s generosity isn’t restricted to U.S. shores, either. In September 2018 Australian magazine Woman’s Day described the country star as “the king of kindness” after he visited a town in Queensland, Australia, for a charity fundraiser in aid of prostate cancer. Urban left a film festival, where he had been with wife Nicole Kidman, to be the special guest at It’s A Bloke Thing in Toowoomba.
Back in the U.S., after appearing in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in October 2018 as part of the Graffiti U tour, Urban was handed $5,000 to give to charity as a thank you from the Engelstad Foundation. The star passed it to the Grand Forks Public Schools Music Program where, according to the Grand Forks Herald, the money will be used to pay for guitar classes for students in local schools.
A few days later on October 18 Urban was due to play the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. Marissa had tickets to the show, but her worsening condition prevented her from going. So her nurses at Mercy Health Children’s Hospital took to social media to tell Urban all about this bed-bound fan who couldn’t get to see her idol. According to Marlise, the nurses “started a social media blitz that just took off like crazy to get Keith’s attention.”
Nurse Jan Cassity tagged Urban in one of her tweets. “I hope you see this,” her plea read. “Requesting a visit to a very sick patient in Pediatric ICU at Mercy Children’s Hospital-Toledo. She is your #1 fan, she was looking forward to your concert Thursday, but will not be able to attend now. She is heartbroken! Please help!”
Cassity explained that the nurses had wanted to reach out to Urban to prevent their poorly patient losing out on her dream. “We knew how important it was to Marissa to be at that concert tonight and since she wasn’t able to go, we were hoping to try and find some way to have Keith make a connection with her,” nurse Jan Cassity told reporters.
The social media campaign worked and Urban made a surprise visit to Marissa before his Toledo concert. Sitting at her bedside, the singer held his megafan’s hand while serenading her with his smash hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” According to mom Marlise, when Urban sang, Marissa “sang along with him.”
Marlise said it took a while for her daughter to realize the identity of her extra special visitor. In an Inside Edition video interview, Marissa’s mom said, “When he first walked in, I don’t think it quite registered as to who he was till she looked at the picture hanging beside her bed and pointed at him.”
On her Facebook page, Marlise explained what Urban’s visit had meant to her gravely ill daughter. “Wow, where do I even begin?” she wrote. “Yesterday was such an amazing day for our precious Marissa English! She got to meet ‘her man’ Keith Urban in person. We all got to watch her face light up when she realized it was really him sitting beside her and holding her hand.”
Marlise went on to disclose that while her daughter’s future remained uncertain, this day would remain special. “We keep praying that Marissa will pull through this illness,” her mom wrote, “but if that is not the end result, we are beyond thankful that she got her one and only wish she talked about every day of her life. Keith Urban you are such a kind and gentle man and we are so blessed to have met you.”
More than 5,500 people reacted to Matthews’ post, which also attracted over 870 comments. Many posters were moved to tears by Marissa’s story, among them Misty Coker. “I don’t know y’all but this just touches my heart… Crying as I type… Prayers for you and yours… Amen,” she wrote.
Elsewhere, Melissa Caudill added, “My thoughts and prayers from Texas!! Keith is truly an amazing man with a heart and soul beyond what words can express. I have met him twice and I am so thankful he made time to make her dreams come true!!!”
Urban’s visit not only made Marissa’s dream come true but it also seemed to give her health a boost. Mom Marlise explained as much to TV reporters, saying the country superstar’s presence had had a “calming effect” on her daughter. She added, “Her heart rate actually came down which surprises me because I thought it would go up, but she was just enjoying the moment.”
Meanwhile, if any more proof was needed of Urban’s solid-gold heart, the country megastar invited Marissa’s mom and nurses to attend his Toledo show as his special guests. And on stage later that evening, Urban paid tribute to his “biggest fan Marissa,” as her mom explained. “It was so emotional,” Marlise told Today. “The whole venue broke out in applause. … A lot of tears from everyone there.”