Four years ago, Andy Lee and his wife Rachel received the worst phone call any parent can receive.
Their newborn daughter Madelyn had succumbed to an infection following complications from a C-section when she was born eight days earlier.
"We stayed at the hospital on night six through seven, and they told us, 'Just go home tonight.' We went home and got a call in the middle of the night that we need to come to the hospital," said Lee, a 15-year NFL pro who has served as the Arizona Cardinals' punter since 2017.
Lee said the next three months were a blur, and caring for their two young sons was the only reason he and his wife were able to get out of bed on some days.
But Andy and Rachel were determined to build something positive out of their tragedy.
"We decided whenever we get to a time when we can talk about this and really get into it, we want to do something," Lee said.
During an anniversary dinner one year after Madelyn's death, that plan began to come into focus: Create a charity in Madelyn's name in order to provide financial support for families who are experiencing the same heartache.
In just two years, Madelyn's Fund has assisted over 400 such families by providing living expenses and, in worst-case scenarios, funeral expenses.
"The one thing we didn’t have to worry about was money," Lee said. "But the one thing that can break families apart and marriages apart, and creates a lot of stress, is money. So, if we can kind of help a little bit with that and hopefully allow them to focus on their baby’s health if everything’s going OK in the NICU, or mourning, we want them to be able to focus on that and not have to focus on, where am I going to get the funds for this? It’s been a blessing for us to be able to do that for families.
"There’s nothing worse than if you have a little one that passes away and you can’t afford to have a funeral service or a casket or a burial plot. So, that’s one thing that we really looked at trying to help families with."
During the Cardinals' game vs. the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Lee will wear cleats to promote Madelyn's Fund as part of the NFL's "My Cause My Cleats" campaign. The charity name and emblem are featured on one cleat, with a butterfly symbolic of life and rebirth on the other.
The charity hasn't only helped families in financial need; it's helped carry Andy and Rachel through their own grieving process, which continues to this day.
"There’s your good days, there’s your bad days. I would say there’s more bad days than good. But I think each day it gets easier to talk about it," Lee said. "I would say this time last year, or definitely the first couple years, I couldn’t sit here and talk. I can now hold it back. But it’s just — I don’t know. It’s tough.
"Obviously we wanted to do this to honor our daughter, but it’s also been really good for me and my wife. It’s been really good for us to kind of deal with what we’re having to deal with with her. It’s still hard to this day, but it’s good to know that through our tragedy, we’ve been able to hopefully change the lives of some people and help them through the most stressful times of their lives."