Decatur fifth grader touches lives, keeps people laughing during coronavirus pandemic

Ethan Lybrand, 11, is quite the jokester, at a time that we could all use a few more laughs. While he puts on a strong face with a big smile, what you can't see with Ethan is no laughing matter.

Posted: Jul 28, 2020 6:47 PM
Updated: May 4, 2021 11:11 AM

Ethan Lybrand, 11, is quite the jokester, at a time that we could all use a few more laughs.

While he puts on a strong face with a big smile, what you can't see with Ethan is no laughing matter.

Ethan Lybrand

He was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was just two days shy of his second birthday.

Duchenne is a debilitating neuromuscular disease affecting every organ in Ethan's body, making it difficult for him to walk. It also cuts short the life of a person, but there are some cases of people living in their 30s and 40s with this disease.

Still, in all, the Lybrands had to prepare early on for their son's future and wanted to get the most out of every day.

"When you consider a normal life for your child was taken away," said Jordan Lybrand, Ethan's mother. "It became our normal."

The Lybrands made the choice to go all in and embrace this life decision that was made for them. They got involved early with the Muscular Dystrophy Association to help raise money to find a cure for Ethan and others who are born with neuromuscular diseases.

"It was kind of like OK, this is what we have. This is what we have to face and so let's just make the best of it and live every single day to the fullest," said Jordan Lybrand.

That's all it took for the young energetic Ethan to step right up in a huge way. First, he took part in very painful clinical trials, but somehow he saw the greater good in all of it.

"He said even if it doesn't help me, if it helps someone else, I'd be willing to do that," said his father, Josh Lybrand. 

Earlier this year, Ethan's never-quit optimism along with his infectious laugh got the attention of the national Muscular Dystrophy Association. Ethan was named MDA National Ambassador in January. It was a chance for him to travel, tell his story across the country and raise money to find a cure.

"I think he's becoming kind of the signature person right now for MDA, bringing that positive outlook and also a little bit of laughter," said Lynn O'Connor Vos, MDA President and CEO. "Someone like Ethan has figured out how to take his situation and turn it into a very positive and very upbeat outlook on life."

Suddenly, the coronavirus pandemic would change the plans for the organization and Ethan as well. To help protect against infection and compromise his lungs, Ethan continues to remain in quarantine at his Decatur home. He fully understands, but you can imagine he's a bit bummed.

"It's honestly sad that I don't get to see my friends and the people that I'm used to seeing," said Ethan.

That's when he decided to use his God-given gift of gab and giggles to turn people's frowns upside down. For 42 days, Ethan told a joke every day on social media to an audience of thousands and thousands of patients, who, like him, also have to stay quarantined.

The Joke of the Day for MDA continues to raise money, and it also received special national attention for Ethan.

"We felt like it would be a nice thing to do while coronavirus is around, making people feel like they were not alone in this," said Ethan. "It makes me happy when I make other people happy."

Newsweek magazine named Ethan one of its "Heroes of the Pandemic" for reminding us all to keep a sense of humor during these uncertain times. 

We all make choices in life, but some of them are already made for us. Ethan's choice is turning his disability to an ability from his funnybone and right at our hearts.

"People tell us he's lucky to have you, but we are the lucky ones because he has impacted our lives tremendously," said Jordan Lybrand.

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