GREENVILLE - Corynna Strawser made her journey home last week, leaving behind a year-long fight to raise awareness of mitochondrial disease, which ravaged, and ultimately ended, her life, and a deeply impacted community.
Corynna and her family made the decision three months ago to move her care to hospice so that she could find comfort in her final days. One of the benefits of receiving care from State of the Heart Hospice, said Kristi Strawser, Corynna’s mom, and former hospice nurse, is that Corynna was able to develop her own plan for how things should go once her disease began progressing more rapidly.
“We’re following her plan,” Kristi said. “She wants people to know that she won her fight; she’s pain free now. She didn’t lose the battle, she’s in her eternal home, dancing and eating and making people laugh; she went home…She wanted people to celebrate her life. And she wants people to live. When we found out we didn’t have much time left, we didn’t stop living - that’s when we started living…I’d dragged that girl everywhere, just begging for someone to fix her. She just couldn’t be fixed…she could only be fixed by God, and she is now - she’s pain free and dancing in heaven.”
“We will continue to advocate for Corynna; because even though we knew there wouldn’t be a cure for her, if we can help even just one family not have to go through this…if we can help one doctor recognize the symptoms sooner, and not blow it off…that will make all of this worth something,” Kristi continued.
As of the weekend, Corynna’s dedicated Facebook page entitled, “Courage for Corynna” had garnered more than 7,000 “likes” to show support of her trip home, while sending kind words to her family. The announcement of Corynna going home had 570 comments wishing her and her family peace while letting them know that she’ll be deeply missed.
“Facebook and blogging allowed Corynna to reach a wider audience…47,000 individuals viewed the post announcing that she’d gone home,” her dad, Sean, noted. “We couldn’t even leave the house, and yet her message has spread so far - that really says something about her message, and the lives she’s touched.”
Her legacy stretched not only to her friends and family, but to the entire Greenville student body, as Corynna was the inspiration to start the Acts of Kindness Club at the Greenville High School.
“She’s really been an inspiration to everyone that’s met her. She was here in the building for a short time her freshman year, and she’s certainly been a big part of the spirit of the school,” said Greenville High School Principal Ken Neff. “A real courageous, determined and great kid. She’ll be missed, but also remembered.”
Corynna’s story and activism helped spread national awareness of mitochondrial disease in a way that only she was capable of performing. Working with local, regional and national media, Corynna spread her story, smiling despite her suffering.
“There’s really no better advocate to show what it’s like,” said Cliff Gorski, director of communications for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. “She has had a tremendous impact across the country in making people aware of mitochondrial disease.”
Family and friends will long remember Corynna’s unwavering goal of raising awareness for the disease, which is often difficult to diagnose.
“In raising awareness, if she has touched one person she has completed her goal,” said Gorski. “But my gut is telling me that she has communicated to thousands her story and spread awareness about this disease far more than she ever knew.”
And as a way of spreading her story and raising awareness, even after her journey home, the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation intends to tell Corynna’s story in their upcoming newsletter, which will release in late January, and will be available online.
“We’re going to do a story on the things that she did, all the things that made up her life and all the things she did to spread awareness,” said Gorski. “We’re going to celebrate her life and her mission of spreading awareness.”
Sixteen-year-old Corynna Strawser went to be home at 9:47 a.m. Wednesday morning, after progressing through the stages of the disease for more than a year.
“Corynna was an inspiration, the peace she had - through all of this she never had that ‘poor me, why me’ attitude,” Kristi said. “I think that’s a huge part of what makes her so different and special…I didn’t just lose my daughter, I lost my hero. For the rest of my life, I will strive to be more like her.
“Going into her room, it’s cold - all the joy, all the life and laughter and warmth - it left with her. We laughed every day, right up til the end. She never stopped living. She inspired me - how can I not do great things now? I have to continue to do good things because of her…and even though there’s this huge void now, I know she’s pain free, and that helps,” Kristi shared.
Over the course of the weekend, hundreds attended her visitation showing the unified support of the entire community.
Since then, Corynna has been spreading not only awareness, but a sense of community. Hundreds commented on Facebook posts, calling Corynna “Heaven’s newest angel,” and calling for Corynna to “dance” - one of her passions before mitochondrial disease ravaged her life.
Many of her Facebook followers, despite never having gotten to meet Corynna, felt a connection to her; admiring her courage, and her faith, Kristi and Sean Strawser noted. Over the weekend, despite the loss felt by the entire community, fundraising activities for Corynna’s mitochondrial disease research fund continued, with totals nearing the $10,000 mark. To continue following her cause, “Like” Courage for Corynna on Facebook.
Ryan Carpe contributed to this story.