Woman diagnosed with cancer days before husband died of ALS

John Sylvester died last Friday. Sylvester, who played professional soccer for the Minnesota Thunder and was coaching director for Minneapolis United, was diagnosed several years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

He was a Washburn grad who coached a team at Hope Academy from a wheelchair.

“It’s really tough every day,” he told Southwest Journal in 2014. I still coach,” he said. “That’s good, and I thank God I can do that, because some people have it a lot worse than I do. I try to keep going every day. The transition to wheelchair now was hard. You’ve got to coach a different way, communicate a different way. My boys keep me on my toes. I pray every day. I thank God.”

Could it get any worse for a family?


Just before John died, his wife, Tessie, found out she has breast cancer adenocarcinoma.

She’s a widow at 36, with two kids Gus, 6, and Freddy, 5.

She’s self-employed, self-insured, and will be out of work while she undergoes treatment.

And so her friends have turned to the nation’s new “health insurance” plan: GoFundMe.

John and Tessie met in 2001 while they were both coaching summer youth soccer. They were brought together by their love of soccer, their dedication to their families, their strong faith and their belief in giving back to the community.

John spent his adult life helping others. He played for the Minnesota Thunder professional soccer team in the late 1990s, then worked in the Minneapolis Public Schools, Harvest African-centered Prep School in North Minneapolis, and as the girl’s coaching director for the Minneapolis United Soccer Club. John was dedicated to helping young people realize their dreams.

As a young woman, Tessie worked hard to obtain an academic scholarship to St. Thomas University and later completed dental school so that she could provide a much-needed service in low-income communities. For many years she worked as a dentist in a free dental clinic in St. Paul serving homeless and marginalized people, and for the past few years has juggled motherhood, caring for John, and working at West St. Paul Family Dentistry.

Together John and Tessie could light up a room with their smiles. Help Tessie continue to light up the world with her smile, her kindness and her warmth. Gus and Freddy, John and Tessie’s joy and sunshine, need their mama. Please help. Donate now. And make it possible for Tessie to get the treatment she needs and to spend as much time as possible with her beloved sons.

In two days, the family’s friends have raised nearly $70,000, but the goal is $500,000.

Today, the Republican senators, after meeting in secret to decide the future of people who get sick in America, are releasing the details of their plan. It’ll get no hearings and be voted on next week. (Full bill here.)

There won’t be enough GoFundMe money to save everybody.

  • chlost

    Let me guess on the comments of the supporters of this bill (based on actual comments I read in support of the House version of the “Trumpcare” bill). “Why should we pay for her medical care?” “She could have purchased insurance, that was her responsibility, not ours” “Hard decisions have to be made, and sometimes, people die”
    THIS is our new public policy.
    You’re on your own. No one cares about you. We only care for ourselves. Too bad. So sad.
    It is beyond comprehension. And my guess is that many of these same people spouting off these comments consider themselves to be religious-mostly “Christian”.

    • But, I would tell any supporter of the ACA repeal, according to the article, Tessie is insured. The complication is that without being able to work during her treatments, she’ll probably lose her coverage (not able to pay premiums?).


    • Dan

      I’d guess more along the lines of “this is happening now, with Obamacare”.
      Tragic story.

  • Al

    There won’t be enough GoFundMe money to save everybody.

    And if you’re poor enough to need GoFundMe money, it’s probably likely your network is poor, too. Where’s the compassion, Washington?

    • Jerry

      But with crowdfunding, we get to chose who deserves our compassion.

  • AL287

    GoFundMe makes everyday philanthropists out of us all and can make an impossible situation less frightening and manageable.

    When you consider what Tessie could have made in salary as a private dentist, she’s probably one of the best philanthropists of all. She went without to help others live healthier lives and set a compassionate example for her young sons.

    To all those fancy dentists out there who cater to wealthy clients with whitening treatments and dental veneers, use some of your profits to do what Tessie did—help those who are doing the best they can to just survive in life.

    Better yet, donate to Tessie’s GoFundMe page.

  • Postal Customer

    The GOP bets that Americans are too stupid to care. They’ve yet to lose that bet.

    It’s become increasingly clear to me that the Obama years were just a speed bump. I have a feeling that the Mark Dayton years will also turn out to have been a speed bump.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      At the risk of igniting a flame war I will contend that the faction of American politics that is currently represented by the Republican party has been making that bet for a long time. In 1969 a little musical opened on Broadway called “1776”. In the play, author Sherman Edwards gives the following line to the conservative leader John Dickinson (spoken to John Hancock): “remember most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.”

      Whether that is a reflection of the history as Edwards understood it or more a reflection of America in the late 1960’s I don’t know. But I have long believed that the sentiment contained in that quote is what leads some people to seemingly vote against the current self-interest.

      • Veronica

        Oh, no, that sentiment is exactly held up by research. People really, really want to believe in the American Dream, but the truth is—it really doesn’t exist. http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/22/news/economy/stiglitz-american-dream/index.html

        • It brings to mind infamous Joe the Plumber, who in 2008 questioned the fairness of tax policies re: incomes above $250k when he later admitted, in fact, that his own income was much less than that (~ $40k in 2006).


  • John O.

    At last night’s MN United match at TCF Bank Stadium against the Portland Timbers, the public address announcer asked the crowd of 18,000+ for a minute of applause in honor of “Johnny Sly.” The crowd–including the visiting supporters from Portland–all joined in without hesitation.

    I knew him for many years from back in the day when he provided soccer training to kids at all age levels in our community (amongst others). He was one of the favorites (by far) with the kids–and the adults. Later, he would almost single-handedly resurrect Minneapolis United Soccer and he did it with panache. He will be missed.

  • Veronica

    One of the most frustrating things for anyone who wants to blow up ObamaCare is that it really, really hurts anyone who wants to become self-employed or start a business. If Insurance is only accessible through employment, then you can kiss small businesses goodbye.

    And don’t start on how the insurance mandate hurts businesses. New companies won’t even get started to get to the point where they are big enough to hire workers.

    The lack of ability for voters to grasp how these things have consequences for their own lives is just….I just can’t. How do you reason your way through this?

    • It also keeps some of us from retiring, which means there’s no entry for younger people.

      • Veronica

        That too, though once they do retire, we will see a major, major shortage of workers.

    • >>If Insurance is only accessible through employment, then you can kiss small businesses goodbye.<<

      I've been saying this for years.

      On the other side of the coin, if people didn't have the spectre of going without health insurance through universal healthcare, workers might start many more small businesses, freelance, or leave their dead-end jobs that they only keep "for the health insurance."

      It's frustrating trying to explain that to people who just don't quite understand this.

      • Jack

        It’s not just dead-end jobs, it could be dead-end companies. I long for the days of decent universal health insurance as it would open up the employment market. As Bob has noted before, employer-based health insurance is golden handcuffs.

        • Exactly.

          My scenario was based on personal experience in the public education sector. People or retirement age hanging on to jobs they hate just for the health insurance.

  • Kassie

    If she has no income, has two kids and is widowed, she will qualify for Medical Assistance, which is absolutely free, has not deductible and will cover all her medical bills.. That is except for in the months when she receives the Go Fund Me money, then she will be over income.

    People jump to the Go Fund Me sites as great savers, but they can also be bad. They can have huge tax burdens, make people lose needed benefits like Medical Assistance and Social Security Survivor Benefits. I hope she has a tax and benefit professional looking at that fund and making sure it doesn’t cause her major problems.

    • Craygc

      While I’m sure there are snags, GoFundMe’s site’s Help Center was encouraging: “Donations made to GoFundMe campaigns are usually considered to be “personal gifts” which, for the most part, aren’t taxed as income.”

      • Kassie

        Personal gifts are considered income in the month received for all welfare programs including Medical Assistance.

  • Craygc

    He was in the practice of texting notes of encouragement to members of his teams up to the end. His pastor said “he was the nicest man I knew”.

    Washburn / Minneapolis United dad