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'You saved him': Inside Brandon Graham's special bond with an Eagles fan

Brandon Graham and Joe Eitl
Brandon Graham and Joe Eitl

"I'm telling you, you saved him," shouted Peg Eitl.

She was unable to contain her gratitude when she spotted Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham walking onto the practice field for Training Camp on Wednesday.

Her son, Joe, has Down Syndrome. He spent the past two years listening to motivational videos from Graham while preparing for and recovering from a heart and liver transplant in 2020.

Joe brimmed with excitement when Graham embraced him and signed his jersey before heading to practice.

At long last, he met his favorite Eagle. An Eagle who his father, Craig Eitl says, "is one of the reasons Joe is alive today."

Born with a congenital heart defect, Joe underwent a procedure at age 7 that caused his heart to pump blood at a significantly higher pressure. The effects eventually damaged his organs; he regressed into end-stage heart and liver failure by 2019.

At that time, Joe's doctors in Pennsylvania suggested hospice as the next step as his health continued to deteriorate, but his family knew he still had life in him.

After a challenging search for a hospital that would attempt to treat Joe, Vanderbilt Medical School agreed to see him.

As he prepared to embark on his trek to Tennessee in hopes of gaining a spot on the transplant list, he was met with a surprise.

"One of our neighbors reached out for a Cameo and got Brandon Graham to do an inspirational video," Peg said.

"Joe played it hundreds of times."

Since Graham heard about Joe, the two have kept in touch. Graham sent two additional videos of encouragement, from which Joe drew strength during his transplant process.

"He was having a hard time getting ready to do his doctor visits and stuff. I just wanted to send him some motivation," Graham said.

Joe underwent a successful surgery before the end of 2020, but his recovery was long. He spent the following eight months in intensive care.

"We had a tough time," his mother said. "He had days where he just didn't have the motivation to get out of bed. All we had to do was pull up one of the little videos."

Joe played Graham's words on repeat as he worked towards healing.

Less than two years post-operation, Joe stood tall, proud, and beaming with excitement, finally able to show the Eagle the extent to which his words impacted his recovery.

"That was my first time meeting him right there. You just don't know that the little small deeds you do for people ..." Graham paused. "It just motivated me to do some more."

But it was no small deed for the Eitl family. To them, it made all the difference.

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