Glassy-eyed from the anesthesia, and with a barely audible voice, Ryan Teixeira woke up from a seven-hour surgery and said, “I know what we’re going to do.” His parents, Steve and Holly, paid rapt attention as their 18-year-old son described his vision for a new nonprofit. The year was 2015, and Ryan had just won the first of many battles—first with Ewing’s Sarcoma, later with leukemia. Ryan would spend the next two years in and out of the hospital, working to build 17 Strong, a name his cousin Charlie coined based on the biblical meaning of the number 17, which stands for victory. Next month, on November 9th, 17 Strong will hold its second annual fundraiser and the
tickets sold out in 24 hours.
Denied his own dream trip because of his age, Ryan Teixeira wanted to be sure that older patients (those who had aged out of the Make A Wish Foundation’s parameters) were given a chance to go where they’d always dreamed of going. So he poked and prodded, researched and worked, sometimes at home, sometimes from a hospital bed, to get the tedious paperwork done to obtain legal “501 c 3” status for his fledgling foundation. There were board members to recruit and funds to be raised. Holly recalls the many times that Ryan kept them on track, saying, “What are you doing? We’ve got a non-profit to run here!”
In 2016, after an all-too-brief recovery period, Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia—a side effect resulting from the aggressive treatments he’d received for the Ewing’s Sarcoma. Despite a bone marrow transplant and his own irrepressible courage, Ryan died in March of 2017.
By November of that same year, the first three recipients of the 17 Strong Foundation were named. Channeling their unimaginable grief into action on Ryan’s behalf, Steve and Holly Teixeira—with the help of Ryan’s younger brother Aaron, Ryan’s longtime girlfriend Nicole Pitman, and board members Daniell Miller and Tracey Vardas—finished what Ryan had started.
“Some days it was the only thing that got us up in the morning,” said Holly. “We poured all our energy into keeping Ryan’s legacy alive. … Now people tell us how thankful they are for what they’ve received from 17 Strong. I want to tell them that I’m just as thankful as they are!”
“Victory Trips” are designed to give a recovering patient a chance to experience a time of recuperation doing something they’ve always dreamed of, says the website. Young adults 18 and over, who have a verifiable catastrophic disease, have completed treatment, and been cleared by a medical professional, are eligible. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Last year, 17 Strong held its own major fundraiser (previous trips were made possible by smaller fundraisers and individual donations). This year will mark the 2nd Annual Celebration of Victory, a dinner-dance held at Thousand Hills Ranch in Pismo Beach. A barbecue feast catered by The Optimist Club, with dancing music by DJ Andy Morris, the event also features live and silent auctions and a chance to meet Victory Trip recipients. Selling out in less than three weeks, more than 400 guests attended in 2018, and more than $150,000 was raised. This year promises to be even bigger.
If you can’t attend the event, 17 Strong welcomes your donations to the live or silent auction. And you can always donate at any time on the website. www.17-strong.org.
Since its inception, 17 Strong gets messages from all over the country and beyond. Candidates come from Chicago, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado, and Washington. So far, recipients are limited to U.S. residents but that could change with time. Ryan’s wish was that no one be turned away.
“It’s so exciting to be hearing from the country’s most prestigious hospitals,” said Holly. “Places like UCLA, Stanford, and St. Jude’s.” One way to keep track of what’s new at 17 Strong is through their podcasts. Here, stories like Ryan’s can be heard, as well as interviews with key medical figures and the happy recipients of Victory Trips. Just 20 to 30 minutes long, they are aired every 17th of the month.
So far, there have been nearly three dozen Victory Trip recipients. Here is what just one of them said:
“This was my first true international trip, so naturally I chose to go big,” said Jimmy, who went to Tokyo. “It was a great way for me to test myself after going through so much. It was confirmation that I was back to full health again.”