FORT WORTH (CBS11) – As Texans, we know cowboy hats aren’t just worn by ranch hands and rodeo stars.
Put one on, and you may stand a little taller or feel a little bit braver.
That’s where William Lee Martin comes in, as the founder of the non-profit organization Cowboys Who Care.
At the Hematology and Oncology Center at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, tiny patients wrangle tall IV poles.
Their doctors and nurses, meanwhile, are trying to put a lasso on the diseases that brought them to the hospital in the first place.
The days are long.
“You always feel very vulnerable,” says Minerva De Leon a mother of one patient.
Moms like Minerva know, the road out of recovery can be longer.
“When she smiles, I’m happy. When she cries, I’m sad. That’s how a mom feels,” Minerva says of her daughter.
No tears today though, not when a group of guys wearing button down shirts, jeans and boots walk in the room.
“These kids are a lot tougher than any cowboy I’ve ever met,” says Bill Martin.
Martin grew up outside of Fort Worth. He’s a comedian also known as Cowboy Bill.
He travels the world, and performs in front of live audiences and on TV, but for the last six years he’s found his best audience in hospital rooms.
“One day I just googled ‘kids with cancer images’. It kind of opened it up to the universe. You had all these big, bright, beautiful faces, beautiful smiles–and bald heads. In the mirror, I could see my cowboy hat,” Martin says.
He and his wife started the Cowboys Who Care Foundation, to give cowboy hats to kids going through cancer treatments.
The hats are the real deal; made by Resistol of Garland. The company modified the band inside, replacing the leather with soft elastic to make the hats more comfortable for kids with hair loss or scalp sensitivities.
“What 7-year-old wants to wear a wig?” Martin asks. “But what 7-year-old wouldn’t want to wear a cowboy hat?”
Members of the Cowboys Who Care foundation spent the afternoon visiting with the kids. Musician Steve Helms brought his guitar for a few songs. Former Dallas Cowboy Tony Casillas shared football stories. Rodeo roping star Billy Bob Brown shared his own journey as a child who faced problems.
On this day in the chemotherapy treatment room, the transformations in kids was instant.
“It makes me feel powerful,” says Yesemia Cuevas, 14.
“It takes away how you feel. You’re laughing and it feels pretty good,” says Alexis Murillo, 13.
“I can cherish this,” says 10-year-old Kaitlyn De Leon, holding the hat in her hands.
Kaitlyn is from Dumas, near the Texas panhandle.
For the last year her family has driven six hours every three weeks to Cook Children’s Medical Center for her treatments. Kaitlyn’s mother says in a few months, doctors expect her to be in remission.
Visits, like this, Minerva says, give her daughter something to look forward to.
“You put the hat on and you watch [the kids’] chests puff out. You watch their self esteem come up. Suddenly, they’re a cowboy or cowgirl, at least for 15 minutes while they have the hat on and we are there. It is truly magical,” he says.
Cowboys Who Care has delivered more than 7,000 hats in the last six years.
The organization’s simple goal is to put a hat in the hands of every kid fighting cancer or blood disorders.
If you know a child who need a hat or you just want to help support this effort, click here.