SAGINAW - On Sunday, a family from Our Lady of Lake Huron in Harbor Beach shared their son’s story for the very first time.
“I’ve protected Derek from the world and today I’m sharing him with the world,” Lisa Pfaff said.
Responding to a nudge from the Holy Spirit, Lisa Pfaff reached out to FAITH Saginaw in January. She shared that in the early morning hours of March 5, 2014, Ash Wednesday, her son Derek attempted to end his life. Since then, he has fought to live every day ... through 58 facial surgeries in seven years. He and his family say God has been their hope and strength.
“I prayed, ‘Dear God, please, please give me the strength to get through this and to hold my family together … hold them together while I’m not even there,’” Lisa said. “I’d pray to
Jesus, ‘You carried a cross. Please, please help Derek carry his cross.’”
The next step in Derek’s journey is a face transplant at Cleveland Clinic, where he has already been approved to be their fourth face transplant recipient. He has successfully undergone a series of rigorous psychological screenings and has an incredible network of support in his family and community. Unfortunately, the surgery is considered experimental and his family’s insurance will not cover any of the costs. A gofundme page has been created and they are praying for support from those who hear Derek’s story.
“As a parent, you only wish the best for your children,” Lisa Pfaff said. “I just want the best for him … to have a chance to help other people. To be able to go out in public and not have people stare at him, and point at him and call him names and say, ‘Did you see him? What happened to him?’ It rips my heart out when he hears those things. He’s such a giving, loving person who would do anything for anyone. I just want him to have this second chance.”
Derek hopes his story will give strength to others to talk about the struggles they are facing before they do any harm to themselves. He hopes his story will help others to avoid the pain he has endured. The words: Derek’s Pain ‘4’ Purpose are etched on bracelets worn by Derek’s family and friends.
Dr. Risal Djohan, a plastic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic who was part of the team that successfully performed the first face transplant in the United States more than a decade ago, believes this surgery will give Derek more confidence to publically share his journey.
“Right now, perhaps he might be a little bit more shy to go out into the community because of his injury,” Dr. Djohan said. “But, what we have learned from our previous patients is that as they are more comfortable, they gain such confidence in the relationship with society because that's how we interact with society ... through our face. Not only how we present ourselves in the community, but also how we express ourselves. I was very, very pleasantly surprised about Derek’s spirit and also the support from his family, his mother and his father, who are really the ones to make sure he can get back on track. So we are very enthusiastic about the future outcome.”
“This year, our seventh year … has just been the year that he’s really put himself out there,” Lisa said. “He’s willing to share what he looks like and what he’s been through to help others. Three, four years ago, we couldn’t have done this. I couldn’t have talked about it. I hear a song on the radio and I just start crying. I still do. We’ve never felt that we were at the point in our lives to share his story like we’re able to share it now.”
Although there are still many challenges ahead, Lisa believes God is leading the way.
“I have faith that he’s going to be okay,” Lisa said. “He should have died multiple times through this, in surgeries, and just things that have went wrong the last seven
years. He shouldn’t be here, and to hear him laugh with his brothers … you just don’t need a lot of things in life, right? To hear him laugh and talk and be so positive and just wanting to get well … it just means everything to me.”
Faith in God, faith in each other and in the support from their local community … this is a story of transformation.
If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, have suicidal thoughts, or know someone who needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 800-273-8255. To connect with local resources available across the 11 counties of the Diocese of Saginaw, visit our website: