POULSBO — Brianna (Oas) Strand had a megawatt smile and loved Jesus, but she wasn’t one to shy away from a battle.
In fact, she was born into battle, diagnosed at age 3 with cystic fibrosis. But she never complained, her father said. Not when thick mucus built up in her lungs and made each breath a chore.
Not when, as a 15-year-old junior rodeo queen, she fell off her horse as she rode around the arena. Weakened by CF, her father helped her up; she got back on her horse and finished the ride. Nobody knew she had gotten out of the hospital the day before.
CF didn’t stop her from graduating in 2005 from North Kitsap High School, studying animal science/zoology at Washington State University, and working as an equine dentistry assistant and a veterinary practice manager.
She and Nick Strand, a videographer, married in 2011. Photos show them at Seahawks games, dancing at their wedding, running the CF Great Strides Walk in Poulsbo. Always smiling. CF did not interfere.
CF didn’t keep her from caring for her menagerie of pets at her Port Orchard home – a miniature cow and bull, a horse, a huge tortoise, a hedgehog, and dogs and cats.
It didn’t stop her from taking over the CF Walk that her parents started 20 years earlier in Poulsbo. And even though she was down to 92 pounds and on antibiotics and oxygen 24/7, it didn’t stop her from going to Washington, D.C., in February to testify before a Senate committee on the need for funding for research into infectious microorganisms.
“CF doesn’t define who I am,” her father, James, recalled her saying. And when doctors at UW Medical Center could do nothing more to stop the infection in her lungs and she went home to die, it was her love of Jesus – not CF — that defined her. She spent one-on-one time with each family member and friend, telling them she was going to heaven and making each one promise that they’d be right with God so they would be there with her.
On May 7, her family gathered in her room and prayed told God that they released her to His care. Her eyes opened. “She took two large gasps and passed away,” her father said.
She would have been 29 on May 11.
Brianna Laura Oas Strand lived “60-something years in 20-something years,” her father said. “She was full of poise and grace, and her faith in Jesus Christ was so strong.”
The Poulsbo CF Walk that Nick and Brianna Strand oversaw will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 3, starting at Vinland Elementary School. Brianna Strand’s celebration of life — complete with tacos, her favorite food – will follow at 3 p.m. at Gateway Fellowship. Her ashes will be interred at Breidablik Cemetery.
Meanwhile, the family has received calls from as far as the Dominican Republic and Japan, and more than 1,000 messages on social media.
“I am so proud of her and so amazed at how many lives she touched, how many people have been contacting us,” Brianna’s mother, Valerie Oas, said May 9.
In addition to her parents and husband, she is survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Justin and Erica Oas, and their son Jack; sister and brother-in-law, Kristen and Jake Johnson, and their children, Rylee and Hank; and numerous friends.
Longer life expectancy
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder found in about 30,000 people in the U.S., according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. CF affects the body’s production of digestive fluids and mucus; secretions which are usually thin instead become thick. Bacteria can become trapped in thick mucus, leading to infections. There is no cure.
When Brianna Strand was a child, someone with CF could expect to live into their teens. Because of early detection and advancement in treatment, the life expectancy is now about 40, according to the foundation.
Many people would credit the fundraising done by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — and the CF Great Strides Walk, including the Oas-Strand’s Poulsbo walk — with that longer life expectancy. The Poulsbo walk is expected to raise more than $32,000 for CF research and treatment. All told, CF walks across the nation expect to raise $41 million.
“This walk is full of hope, you can feel it,” Brianna Strand told the North Kitsap Herald in 2015. “There is research going on right now, making huge strides for CF.”
And she told former Herald staffers Joe Irwin and Chris Case in 2013: “We’re going to witness a miracle in our lifetime.”