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Iowan Max Bird, born with Down syndrome and a speech impairment, worked this summer to say "Luke Bryan" for the first time ahead of the country star's Iowa show. Matthew Leimkeuhler/The Register

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Max Bird has been trying to say the “k” in "Luke Bryan" for years.

A devoted fan of the country star, the 13-year-old, born with Down syndrome, battles a speech impairment called Apraxia. He would always pronounce his idol’s name “Lute.”

Working throughout the summer with speech pathologists in hopes of saying “Luke” in time for Bryan’s Sept. 30 concert in Boone, he kept inching closer to kicking that first “k” — a sound needed to pronounce the “ax” in his own name — out of his mouth.

He practiced all of May, June and July, and late last month, the “k” finally clicked.

“Oh my God, I was so happy,” said Sarah Sitzmann, a speech pathologist with Enrichment Therapies who worked with Bird for more than a year. “I was so proud because I knew he had finally gotten it. I knew it was going to make such an impact on his daily life.”

For Sitzmann, the journey to saying “Luke” was one worth documenting. She captured footage of Bird’s struggle and eventual success during speech sessions, creating a timeline of his progress. She uploaded the video to her personal Facebook, the footage has racked up more than 40,000 views and been shared nearly 1,000 times as of Monday morning.

Announced in May, Luke Bryan will bring his acclaimed Farm Tour to the Ziel farm in rural Boone later this month. It was when the Bryan announced the show that the two began working full-time on “k,” an essential sound to Bird’s progress.

“I almost started crying,” Sitzmann said. “I think I did cry after the video stopped. For him to finally get it … now he can say ‘OK.’"

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The online attention comes with the support of Bird’s mother, Jaimi Bird, of Waukee, who also works as a speech pathologist for Enrichment. Bryan, she explained, has been a staple in Max Bird’s life since elementary school. Each speech session ends with singing a Bryan song, a reward for Max Bird coined “Luke Bryan Time.”

The Bird family — Max, Jaimi, father Paul Bird and brother Mitchell Bird — all traveled to Cedar Falls to see Bryan at the UNI-Dome last year, and they plan to see him again in Boone at the end of the month.

“I don’t know what the connection is … it was Max’s idea,” Jaimi Bird said. “I think we all work really hard for things that motivate us. Max has found that in his love of music.”

While the heartwarming video has brought in a multitude of encouraging and heartfelt comments online,  Sitzmann and Jaimi Bird both hope it reaches Bryan’s eyes and, on Sept. 30, Max can say “Luke” to the man who inspired him to do so.

“I bet Max would just talk and talk and talk to Luke and be so proud to show him how he can say 'Luke,'” Sitzmann said.

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