Frank Teixeira, whose battle with – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was featured in a Morning Read last week, died Sunday.
Teixeira, 42, passed away peacefully at around 9:30 p.m., said his mother, Cay Hodge. He was surrounded by friends in his bed, just like at the regular monthly sleepovers they held for him to boost his spirits.
He never wanted his friends and family to feel sorry for him and, right up to the end, was smiling, they said. In addition to smiling, Teixeira only could communicate with his eyebrows and eyes.
Memorial services are pending for the former prison guard and avid surfer, who was divorced and had no children.
For more information about Teixeira and Big Fat Love, the organization inspired by his courageous fight against ALS, visit friendsforfrank.com.
Here is the story that was published last week:
SAN DIEGO – It's still early Friday night, but the party's already hopping.
The host, Frank Teixeira, 42, reclines in front of a wide-screen television, eating spaghetti.
A blonde woman bursts through the front door.
"Frank T!" April Winner says. "What's happening!"
She gives him a hug.
Soon, more than a dozen people fill Teixeira's San Diego home with food, drink and laughter. Most of the partiers are from the class of 1986 at Western High School in Anaheim.
Scott VanSickle, Teixiera's best friend, arrives.
"How you been doing?" VanSickle asks.
Among the few remaining muscles Teixiera still can control are the ones around his mouth.
He curls his lips into a smile.
Over the years, some from the class of '86 have drifted apart.
Since last fall, however, they've been tight, holding monthly sleepovers at Teixeira's house, united in their love for the former strapping surfer who no longer can lift a hand to touch them — or even speak.
Teixeira was surfing one day in 2003 when he noticed something wasn't right with his right leg and foot. It wasn't doing what he wanted it to do.
Teixiera, who grew up in Buena Park, had been an avid board rider since his early teens – a fixture at Ninth Street in Newport Beach.
Could age be catching up with him? Could it be a lingering injury?
He consulted his wife of two years. They agreed he should see a doctor.
The diagnosis was ALS.
There is no known cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, popularly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, after the legendary baseball player who died of the disorder in 1941.
The disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, eventually killing motor neurons that give a person voluntary control over muscle movement. Speech, swallowing and breathing are affected. Gradually, the body becomes paralyzed.
Yet even when the disease is at an advanced age, a person still can see, hear, smell, and feel touch. A person may not be able to move, but be fully alive.
Teixiera's fully alive.
The music blasts. Teixiera smiles.
Friends pack into his bedroom, swapping stories.
They talk about how Teixiera used to build motorcycles, until he crashed one.
How he traveled the world to ride waves.
How he added on to the house he moved into in San Diego in 1996 and built a separate garage.
VanSickle and Teixiera were inseparable.
"We learned to surf together," VanSickle says. "We learned how to drive, about girls."
Teixiera beams from his bed.
"It's hard to wrap my head around this at times," VanSickle says. "His attitude is so positive. He's my lifelong friend, and he's going through this with such dignity."
When he was healthy, Teixiera had a pet phrase for describing acts of kindness:
"There's big fat love there."
After he got sick, his family and friends co-opted the saying.
Now, they smother him with love at get-togethers like the sleepovers, and also hold fundraisers to help pay for Teixiera's living and medical expenses.
They sell "Big Fat Love" hats, coffee mugs, T-shirts and other merchandise through a Web site.
In February, they raised $10,000 at a silent auction in San Clemente.
For 17 years, Teixiera worked as a correctional officer at the San Diego County prison before his disease forced him to quit, in 2006.
Frank Michell, a parole commissioner who met Teixiera at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, talks to Teixiera as he is spoon-fed pureed spaghetti.
"God smiles on a few of us, and frowns on the rest," Michell says. "God's smiling on you, Frank."
Teixiera smiles, and raises his eyebrows twice – his sign for "yes."
A glance downward would means no.
When he's in bed and needs something, Teixiera is able to use his toes to tap a button that rings a doorbell.
In 2008, Teixiera's wife left him.
About a year ago, he lost his ability to speak.
About three to four months ago, he stopped being able to "speak" through a computer by typing out what he wanted to say.
Now, his friends and caretakers use a small white board and point to letters to spell out sentences, selecting letters based on how he moves his eyes.
Jenelle Deilgat, 21, a caretaker, starts spelling out a sentence.
"D-O-N-T L-E-A —," she stops. "Don't leave? I wasn't going to leave you."
Neither will his friends.
Cay Hodge, Teixiera's mother, recently moved in with her son to assist him in the final stages of his disease.
"People do things for Frank because they like him," she says. "He just collects people. Always has."
Guards at the prison where he used to work continue to donate enough sick hours to cover his old salary – money that allows Teixiera to stay in his house.
"Something like this brings out the best in people," says Kelly Hahn, a regular at the sleepovers.
"It doesn't matter how far old friends have strayed. You can still be there for one another and support one another.
"Frank has taught us that."
Often, ALS kills a person rapidly. Teixiera has been living with it for seven years.
Recently, as the disease has started to attack his lungs, he's had several close calls.
His mother has a theory on why her son continues to live.
"These people surrounding him," she says, pointing to his friends, "are keeping him alive."
Four of Teixiera's friends join him on his bed.
It's getting late.
Soon, everyone will break out their air mattresses and sleeping bags and get to bed, too.
VanSickle kneels by Teixiera's bed and looks into his eyes.
"Are you good?" he asks.
Teixeira smiles, his eyes bright and glistening.
The room, for an instant, goes quiet.
"Yeah," VanSickle says softly. "He's good."
For more information, visit friendsforfrank.com.