What happened to Bryan Bresee’s sister? How Saints DL is honoring late sibling’s cancer battle with ‘Ella Strong’ tattoo

Throughout Bryan Bresee’s playing career, having his family attend his games has been the norm.

His parents, Meghan and Richie, and three sisters came to all of his high school games in Maryland when he was the No. 1 recruit in the country. The family also made plenty of trips to Clemson to see Bresee suit up for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers during his Bresee’s college career.

Being at those games meant everything to Bresee’s younger sister, Ella, who he described as his “main supporter” in the family.

“Ella was at every one of my football games,” Bresee told ESPN. “She just loved it. She loved everything about it, loved the atmosphere, and then, especially, she loved Clemson because of how good everyone was to her there. She loved coming to games and she was the superstar around town.”

Now, Bresee has moved on from Clemson to the bright lights of the NFL. The first-round rookie has played in each of the Saints’ games this season, generating 21 tackles, 3.5 sacks and six pass defenses as part of a strong New Orleans stop unit.

Sadly, Ella has not been there to witness his success. Nor was she there to see him drafted into the NFL, a moment that her father says would have made her “extremely proud.”

“It would have been like drafting Ella as well because she just would’ve been over the moon and just so proud of her brother,” Richie Bresee told ESPN.

Indeed, Ella’s absence from these milestones has weighed on the Bresee family, as Bryan has described.

“Those moments, like when I would go home or when at games and that kind of stuff, when I’d expect her to be there and she wasn’t, that kind of hit me a little,” Bresee said.

Here’s what to know about Ella Bresee and how Bryan is honoring her.

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What happened to Bryan Bresee’s sister?

Ella Bresee died after battling medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. She was just 15 years old at the time of her death on Sept. 15, 2022.

Bryan paid tribute to her in an Instagram post from that day.

Ella was originally diagnosed with cancer in 2021. The specific subtype of her disease — Sonic hedgehog medulloblastoma — has a survival rate of 51 percent in children.

However, Ella’s version of it was difficult to treat. She had to undergo surgery, 30 rounds of radiation and four months of chemotherapy between April and November of that year. She also had to relearn how to walk after the treatments and dealt with significant weight and hair loss.

Before her death, she was still frequently in attendance at her brother’s Clemson games. The whole team adopted the “Ella Strong” slogan to support her as she proved to be an inspiration for that squad.

“I am stronger today for having experienced Ella’s strength and courage,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement after her death.

And Bryan Bresee has acknowledged that Ella continues to motivate him even after her death.  

“My little sister has been my motivation ever since she started her battle with brain cancer,” Bryan said after he was drafted, per ESPN. “Watching her battle every single day and always keep a smile on her face, just staying so positive through all that … it honestly was just amazing to see.”

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Bryan Bresee’s ‘Ella Strong’ tattoo

Bresee keeps a reminder of Ella’s battle with him in the form of a tattoo. He got it — a ribbon-wrapped rose inscribed with the phrase “Ella Strong” with Roman Numerals signifying her birthday — on his right arm before his final college season.

Bresee’s decision to get the ink was an easy one, as each member of his family got one to honor Ella.

“It’s just something to look down [at] and always keep her in my mind,” Bresee said, per ESPN.

So, while Ella isn’t in the stands cheering him on any longer, she still is, in a way, always with him.

And her memory inspires him both to enjoy his everyday life and every step of his football journey.

“With football, you never know when your last play is going to be,” Bresee told ESPN. “I think in that kind of aspect, in the middle of the dog days of camp, just waking up every day and some days you’re like, ‘Ah, I’ve got to go practice,’ but I think about her and what she went through and you’re just like … ‘I’m lucky.’”


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