Money inspires most NIL deals. A sister’s terrifying illness inspired Boise State's Hank Bachmeier to give back

·8 min read

Hank Bachmeier can still hear the horrific noises. The guttural, incoherent growls. Four years ago, before Bachmeier was Boise State’s starting QB, they would rumble out of his sister’s mouth. And they’d terrify 17-year-old Hank, because he knew what they foretold. His sister, Ella, would groan — uuuuuhhhhhh — then seize and shake, uncontrollably, sometimes for almost a minute. Hank and their mother, April, had no way to help, and no idea why. So they’d cry.

One week in 2017, Ella had been a “super active” and “perfectly healthy” high school freshman. She’d run in a track meet and lived an extroverted 16-year-old life. The next, she was catatonic and unable to speak. April rushed her to a doctor in Southern California, then to a children’s hospital in San Diego. They’d ultimately stay for almost two months. Hank slept on the hospital floor that first week, then left because he couldn’t handle his sister’s pain. She was psychotic, seemingly possessed, occasionally violent. She was eventually diagnosed with Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, a rare and mysterious autoimmune disease. Her brain, essentially, was under attack. Her family, overwhelmed by fear, needed relief. Among the institutions that provided it was a Ronald McDonald House across the street.

And that’s why, four years later, when Hank’s representative floated some NIL possibilities, he had an idea.

For years, Bachmeier, now a junior at Boise, had thought about giving back to the people and organizations who’d helped his family during those “scary” times. The NCAA’s relaxation of Name, Image and Likeness rules presented an opportunity. He partnered with Wright Brothers, an Idaho construction company, to raise money and awareness for the local Ronald McDonald House, which supports hospitalized children. He sat down for lunch with one of those kids, a Leukemia-stricken 17-year-old named Hunter, whose family had been staying at the Boise house.

Bachmeier did all of this because he knows, intimately, what it’s like to be in their shoes.

Hank and Ella Bachmeier sit together in a San Diego-area hospital, a stay that lasted two months for Ella. (Courtesy of the Bachmeier family)
Hank and Ella Bachmeier sit together in a San Diego-area hospital, a stay that lasted two months for Ella. (Courtesy of the Bachmeier family)

‘Dad, I can’t be here’

Bachmeier still remembers the phone call. It came on the beach, where he’d been “screwing around” with some friends. He’d actually just been stung by a stingray when, on May 6, 2017, his dad told him: Ella had a seizure. Hank didn’t quite know what to make of the news. He spent the rest of the weekend at a buddy’s house. On Monday morning, before school, he finally saw Ella — and broke into tears.

Hank and Ella, the oldest of five siblings, had been each other’s protectors throughout their childhoods. They grew up in the Rancho Capistrano gated community, surrounded by wildlife, by California’s Cleveland National Forest, and by each other. The Bachmeier parents, April and Michael, “babied” their children and homeschooled them until high school. Family life was chaotic — “someone always crying, laughing, screaming,” Hank remembers — but incredibly tight-knit.

And so, on that Monday morning, when Hank sensed that “something was off,” that his little sister clearly wasn’t herself, he felt scared. “What’s my birthday?” he asked her, hoping she’d say July 14. “Six,” she answered, and Hank’s fear deepened. “What’s going on?” he thought.

April calmed him and took Ella off to the family’s general practitioner. But while there, Ella had another seizure. As her condition rapidly deteriorated, the elder half of the family began “freaking out,” Hank remembers. They gathered at Rady Children’s Hospital some 90 miles away in San Diego, not knowing how long they’d be there or whether Ella would ever recover. They spent hours that felt like eternities by her side, watching TV and worrying. They waited as specialists scurried in and out of the room. Basic tests revealed no underlying abnormalities. Days dripped away without a diagnosis. While the rest of the family stayed at a nearby hotel, April slept on a couch and Hank curled up in blankets on the rock-hard hospital floor.

And that’s when he first heard the noises. Throughout those days, he’d see glimpses of the outgoing sister he knew and so dearly loved — the smile, some faint laughter. But then the laughter would morph into the growl. The seizures would multiply, sometimes occurring back to back, separated by mere minutes. Hank’s own emotional stability disintegrated. He cried in his father’s arms and, toward the end of that first week, broke.

“Dad,” he said. “I can’t be here.”

He and the Bachmeiers, having spent all their emotion, plus over $1,000 on hotel lodging, food and other emergency accommodations, needed support.

A community rallies behind the Bachmeiers

They found it throughout their community, at the homes of friends, and at Murrieta Valley High School. Hank will never forget the simple gestures; the girl who bought him Subway for lunch; the teacher who brought him a sandwich and chips; the teacher who bought him a clean pack of underwear. He’ll never forget the family who took him in, who fed him, who drove him to and from school. He stayed with his first youth football coach, Juan Coria, for the rest of that school year, and hitched 90-mile rides to the hospital whenever he could.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, the family also found support across the street.

At the end of Week 2, around the time doctors diagnosed Ella and proposed a treatment plan, the San Diego Ronald McDonald House offered them a temporary home. Michael and his mother — Hank and Ella’s grandmother — moved into a room there. Hank and his three brothers stayed with friends, but visited on weekends. April slept at the hospital, by Ella’s side, but even she calls the charity of the Ronald McDonald House “incredible.” She had dedicated 100% of her mental energy to Ella. People around her reminded her to take care of herself, too. Whenever she or family members wanted, they could pop into the Ronald McDonald House for meals, or laundry, or a shower.

As the weeks wore on, Ella began progressing, slowly and unevenly. An allergy to Keppra, an anti-seizure medication, initially made her itchy and miserable. A series of “potions,” as April calls them, eventually contributed to her improvement. The diagnosis itself was the turning point. The disease was treatable. The drug Ativan calmed her down. She still wasn’t stable, and still had “crazy” episodes, but after two months in the hospital, she returned home. Two years later, she’d recovered. Now, she’s off at college, with no memory of the worst period of her life.

But her family remembers the network of people who helped them through it. April mentions “all the neurologists that were on Ella's case.” Hank recalls the warmth of employees and volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House. Once his family moved in, he felt the weight of misfortune, which had been crippling his parents, ease.

And so, as he chowed on home-cooked spaghetti, or took comfort in being around other families caring for sick kids who could relate, he promised himself: If I ever have the platform to be able to give back to this organization in any way … I will.

PROVO, UT -  OCTOBER 9: Hank Bachmeier #19 of the Boise State Broncos celebrates a touchdown against  the BYU Cougars during their game October 9, 2021 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
As Hank Bachmeier's profile grew at Boise State, he found the ability give back via an NIL agreement. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

Hank has an idea

Bachmeier’s platform grew as he did, into a 6-foot-1 gunslinger and four-star recruit. He enrolled early at Boise, won the starting job as a freshman and, injuries aside, never looked back.

In fact, he didn’t often reflect on 2017, and on Ella’s illness. But he knows it changed him. His voice wavers with emotion as he thinks about it. As he pictures the young kids scampering around Rady Children’s Hospital. He remembers their bald heads. He thinks about how each of them, in each dark room, “had their own crazy story,” just like Ella. But most of all, he thinks about their brilliant smiles.

“It just puts a lot of things in perspective,” he says now. His football recruitment, in those moments, didn’t matter. He realizes that nowadays, in the grand scheme of life, bad practices don’t either. “There's bigger things in life than playing football, or turning in a homework assignment,” he says.

He felt this when the NIL deal came to life, and when he met Hunter, a high-school student from Homedale, Idaho. Wright Brothers sponsored Bachmeier’s appearance, hosted Hunter at Saturday’s Boise game, and paid for the lunch. The deal also stipulated, at Bachmeier’s request, that the company make a donation to the Ronald McDonald House.

Bachmeier and Hunter had originally planned to meet last Tuesday. Hunter teared up when he heard the plans coming together. They then audibled to Monday because Hunter’s chemotherapy schedule had changed. Organizers expected the lunch to last 45 minutes, maybe one hour. Hank and Hunter ended up bonding for more than two. They chatted about football, about relationships, about YouTube videos, about life.

They also exchanged numbers, and have been texting since. Hank encouraged Hunter through a tough week of treatment, and told him: If I can help you in any way, let me know.