Matt Hammitt of Sanctus Real is releasing his first solo album, but unlike many lead singers it's not an ego booster or a desire to grab a bigger spotlight.
His motivation is to help others.
"I still feel awkward at times to be putting out a project on my own, or talking about a project that is not the band's, because I love the band so much," he said. "It still feels like a weird thing."
The album, "Every Falling Tear," originated with songs Mr. Hammitt wrote for his son, Bowen, who was born Sept. 9 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The defect, in which both parts of the left side of the heart are undeveloped, is fatal if it is not treated.
Bowen, now 10 months old, has undergone two heart surgeries, the first when he was just 3 days old, and a third surgery will likely occur next year.
The illness was detected more than five months before Bowen's birth during an ultrasound test, and the Hammitt family -- Matt, wife Sarah, and daughters Emmerson, 4, and Claire, 2 -- was thrust into a whirlwind of emotions.
As soon as the diagnosis was made, Mr. Hammit, 31, of Perrysburg began pouring his thoughts and feelings into music.
"I started writing songs specifically about the things Bowen was going through and that we were going through," he said. "My intention was to record the songs at home and just play them in the hospital room for him."
In his 15 years as lead singer and main songwriter with Sanctus Real, Mr. Hammitt has earned a reputation for writing songs of depth -- in both thought and emotion -- and for his soul-baring honesty.
The songs for Bowen were a departure from Sanctus Real's style, Mr. Hammitt said, and he had no intention of marketing them. There are modern-day lullabies and songs with lyrics focusing on such heartwrenching topics as overcoming the fear of fully loving Bowen because of his precarious health; a mother's cry for peace, and the need to trust God even "when I'm walking through the dark."
Yet there is a sense of hope and encouragement throughout.
The song "Trust," for example, is about "God's faithfulness to us even in the midst of tragedy," Mr. Hammitt said. "It's about facing realty: I'm going to want to be upset or doubt or even angry with some of the things happening in our lives. But I've got to remember all the good that God has done. He is faithful and still will be even through all of this."
He met with officials at Sparrow/EMI Records, Sanctus Real's label, who were enthusiastic about the project.
The solo CD comes out Sept. 13, a year and a day after Bowen's first heart surgery. The first single, "All of Me," has already been released.
Mr. and Mrs. Hammitt, meanwhile, founded a nonprofit charity, Whole Hearts Foundation, seeking to help others who are going through struggles because of a child's illness. Bowen spent the first 2 1/2 months of his life in C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, and Mr. Hammitt knows firsthand how lengthy hospital stays can cause stress.
"When we were in the hospital, we really saw the need around us. There are so many families that are struggling to get back and forth to work and the hospital," he said. "They're suffering financially and also emotionally and spiritually. It's really draining on people and it can be overwhelming, just devastating, to see the impact that their child being sick has on them."
Whole Hearts Foundation will provide financial help and other resources "to help guide them through that time in their lives," Mr. Hammitt said.
Bowen is doing relatively well, he said, although he has problems keeping solid food down and his skin color could be a concern.
Thanks to the popularity of Sanctus Real, Bowen's journey is being closely followed by thousands of people around the world. The Hammitts' Web site, bowensheart.com, had more than 300,000 hits the first three days after Bowen's birth, and the site averages between 5,000 and 20,000 hits every day.
"It means a lot to us as parents that people are checking back to see how Bowen's doing," Mr. Hammitt said.
Sanctus Real, meanwhile, is set to perform the first concert ever at the Stroh Center, the new student union at Bowling Green State University, on Aug. 13, and the group will tour this fall with Casting Crowns.