KALISPELL — Brentley Ehmann was born in June 2010 and just a few months later he was diagnosed with a rare birth defect of his skull causing his brain to grow abnormally.
Brentley underwent complete reconstructive surgery of his skull at Denver Children’s Hospital at just six months old.
What comes next is a story of a family finding light during life’s darkest hours — sharing compassion with thousands of families across the world while fulfilling a legacy that will never be forgotten.
“Extremely frightening, extremely scary to go through, you know I did the whole why me? Why my baby?” said Brentley's Mom Summer Ehmann.
Shortly after birth, Brentley Ehmann was diagnosed with craniosynostosis.
“It’s where the sutures of the skull fuse together prematurely and it causes the brain not to grow properly, misshaped head,” said Summer.
As Brentley was set to undergo reconstructive surgery at Denver’s Children’s Hospital, his mom Summer received a special gift.
“I actually got a care package sent to me from a stranger in Nebraska and it just had a couple little things in it but it was super touching, and I said well why would you do that? and she said well I got a care package from a stranger out of Seattle, and I said well who is this person that sent you that? And she said Shelby Davidson, so I reached out to her.”
“Like a fuzzy blanket for the baby, a stretched knit hat all hand-made, we have a ribbon prayer chain which is just 15 loops of ribbons with motivational sayings and scriptures on it, they usually hang it on the baby’s crib at the hospital,” said Summer.
Since their inception in 2011, Summer and Shelby have sent more than 10,000 care packages to families around the world.
Following his successful surgery, Brentley was as active as a Montana kid could be, skiing in the winter, and riding dirt bikes in the summer. But last spring Brentley’s parents received a phone call from his elementary school that their son had a headache and needed to be picked up from class.
“It was like the worst excruciating pain, yeah so he was in a lot of pain, and he was diagnosed with a migraine,” said Summer.
Brentley passed away at Logan Health in Kalispell less than a week after his initial headache at 11 years old. An autopsy revealed Brentley died from an undiagnosed case of bacterial meningitis.
“I mean we literally thought we were going to bring him home two days later, like I just thought okay he had a really bad headache and they’re going to get this under control and will go home and I had no idea that sending him into that second MRI he wouldn’t come back,” said Summer.
Brentley and his dad Ryan did everything together from taekwondo to building trucks and sharing a passion for rodeo.
“I got on a bareback horse and man after one ride it was like the song, I was hooked on an 8-second ride,” said Brentley's Dad Ryan Ehmann.
Ryan rode bareback in the professional rodeo circuit and won a national championship in 2004 and after 17 years in retirement, his son convinced him to get back in the rodeo arena.
“He said, 'Dad I want to do it with you,' I said, 'Okay I’ll do it with you.' And then he passed away a year ago," said Ryan.
Since Brentley’s passing, Ryan’s been volunteering time with the Kalispell Rodeo Club, teaching the next generation of bareback riders.
“Super excited about this summer, we’re going to hit a few rodeos together, but when we load up the camper and the Dodge pickup truck, I got a bunch of young kids with me, that I would have done with my son.”
Ryan spent countless hours with Brentley rebuilding and selling old trucks on their family ranch. Brentley called himself his dad's business partner.
“It meant the world to me, and after he passed the hardest thing, I’ve ever done in life is…I got to go back to the garage and keep working without him, and I’m just like I’m a tough rodeo guy, I grew up on a ranch, I didn’t think I was that tough, it’s been rough, it’s been hard,” said Ryan.
Ryan’s now mentoring some of Brentley’s best friends, building trucks while teaching valuable life lessons.
“If I can give back to the kids or the community and just be that inspiration and serve other kids, and have other people look at me and be like that guy made a change in my life, he impacted my life, that’s my mission.”
Summer and Ryan know Brentley’s legacy will live on forever through giving, kindness, and love.
“Really love on your kids, love on your family because you don’t know if tomorrow comes, that would be my advice, live today like it’s the last," Ryan concluded.