What It Means to Be Strong

Aug 16, 2013 5:15 PM ET

Nuts about Southwest

This is a guest blog from Riley Michaela Severs, a teenager who has benefited from Southwest's Medical Transportation Grant Program.

Through the years, people have told me how strong and brave I am.  It became so repetitive that it didn’t even phase me anymore.  The hardest part is that no one truly understands enough of what I go through to judge whether I’m brave or strong.

I was born with a rare congenital condition called Venous Malformation that affects the arteries, veins, and/or lymph vessels, but without specific cause.  According to the doctors, it’s incurable and can even be life-threatening.

I had my first surgery when I was nine months old to remove a large tumor in my left leg and three fourths of my hamstring muscle.  At five years old, a large bulge appeared on the back of my right thigh, and, by the time I was seven, I had been officially diagnosed with Venous Malformation.

I’ve never felt brave or strong because I thought being forced to be strong didn’t count.  I didn’t have a choice; I had to be strong, but I couldn’t do it on my own.  My mom and I have traveled to Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, and Texas to see medical specialists.  Over the past nine years, I have had about 17 procedures and surgeries. Fortunately, Southwest Airlines Medical Transportation Grant Program and Miracle Flights for Kids are on a mission to help kids like me.  Because of these organizations, I’ve been able to travel for free to receive the care I need. 

I can be strong, but these organizations have given me a gift I couldn’t give myself.  From assisting me in boarding to ensuring my comfort when I traveled after surgery, Southwest Employees reminded me that I don’t have to be strong on my own.  I will forever be thankful for their help.

Through it all, I’ve learned to believe in myself—to believe that I can push through the worst.  I couldn’t be more proud of how my illness has shaped me into the person I am and what it has inspired me to become. It’s left me no longer afraid to let my condition define me.  And that is true strength.

Riley is only one example of the thousands who have received complimentary transportation through Southwest Airline’s Medical Transportation Grant Program. Now through September 30, Southwest is accepting applications from hospitals and medical transportation charities to participate in the 2014 program.  To join the more than 90 organizations nationwide, nonprofits can apply online by visiting southwest.com/medicalgrant.