Graphic communication senior Nicole Pitman smiled as she skimmed the pages of her newly published children’s book, “The Toad’s Code.”
“On each page, I tried to encompass something that reminded me of him,” Pitman said. “I tried to include a little 17 because that was the baseball number he chose when he was younger. It means victory.”
Pitman published “The Toad’s Code” in March as part of her senior project. Though the success of this published children’s book exceeded her expectations, the book’s value goes beyond its success, as it carries the memory of her late boyfriend Ryan Teixeira.
One year ago, Pitman dedicated her weekends to hospital visits. She and her mother would drive down to the University of California, Los Angeles hospital each weekend to visit Teixeira, a student at Colorado Mesa University who had been diagnosed with Leukemia September 2016. Pitman and Teixeira began dating during their time at Arroyo Grande High School and became inseparable. Pitman fondly recalls the time they would spend together. Unable to leave the hospital, the couple looked for fun ways to stay entertained.
During one of the visits, Nicole’s mom, Debbi Pitman, suggested that the couple write and illustrate a children’s book together.
“She just kind of told us, ‘Nicole, I want you to illustrate a children’s book that Ryan’s going to write,’” Debbie said. “Ryan was so imaginative and creative and he loved kids, so, I think it was only fitting.”
According to Debbi, the idea for the book came from seeing how creative Teixeira and Nicole were. They created videos and played word games during hospital visits.
“Ryan’s fun-loving and creative personality and Nicole’s artistic talent blended perfectly,” Debbi said. “The collaboration process was a joy to witness.”
After the idea for the story was presented, Teixeira wasted no time. The next day he started on the story and finished within an hour. With Teixeira’s input, Nicole began the illustrations for “The Toad’s code.” “The Toad’s Code” guides the reader through a journey to the ‘funnest world of fun.’ Solving riddles to get past a mean old toad leads the reader on a fun adventure with an enlightening ending.
“I started the illustrations while he was in the hospital so he kind of got to approve the story-boarding and the drawing [of] the toad,” Nicole said.
In March 2017, a few months after the creation of the book, Teixeira passed away. Bearing the weight from this tremendous loss, Nicole decided to take a break from making their book. It was during spring break, shortly after Teixeira’s passing, that she decided to dedicate all of her time completing “The Toad’s Code.”
“I kind of put all of my energy and grieving into that,” Nicole said.
Pitman’s next step was to get the book published. Last quarter, with the story and most of the illustrations complete, Nicole chose to base her senior project on getting “The Toad’s Code” published.
“Most of the project was figuring out how the heck to publish, because I had no clue where to start,” Nicole said.
With assistance from her professors, Nicole found a publisher and published “The Toad’s Code” in honor of her boyfriend. The book is being sold through Teixeira’s non-profit foundation website, 17 Strong. All book sales will be donated to the organization to support its mission of sending adults with illnesses on vacations, also known as victory trips.
“Since Ryan and I did it together, it made most sense for it to be something that helps his foundation,” Nicole said.
During his senior year of high school, what Teixeira thought was a baseball injury, turned out to be Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. After nine months of treatment, the doctors declared him cancer free. One year later, Teixeira was diagnosed with Leukemia, a side effect of the previous treatment.
Teixeira is remembered for his caring and passionate spirit. His love for baseball, people and life was never dimmed during his battle. Even during the worst of times, Teixeira never complained and always kept a smile on his face.
“When Ryan was asked by a celebrity in the hospital, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ without hesitating Ryan said, ‘Because good people can handle bad things,” his mom, Holly Teixeira said.
Nicole described Ryan as the most caring person she had ever met. Anyone who met him was touched by the encounter in some way.
“He never met a stranger,” Nicole said. “When he met you, you felt like you were the most important person that he was talking to.”
With the impact that Teixeira made on people throughout his life, both families felt it was right to celebrate who he was through “The Toad’s Code”.
“The most important thing to me is that [“The Toad’s Code”] is a way to help spread his story and in the process, making children happy,” Nicole said.
Although Nicole said Ryan probably had high hopes for “The Toad’s Code,” she never thought it would turn into a publication.
“I thought it was just going to be a project,” Nicole said. “I think everyone’s kind of surprised that this actually became a reality.”
Now that she has seen positive reactions, Pitman hopes that the book will help promote Ryan’s story and 17 Strong. Similarly, Holly believes “The Toad’s Code” is reflective of her son’s personality.
“This book is part of Ryan’s legacy and we want to share it to inspire others that good things can come out of a bad situation,” Holly said.
For more information on Ryan, his foundation and “The Toad’s Code” visit seventeenstrong.org.