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Volunteer Spotlight: Gift of lungs motivates Debora Dearring to share her own spirit and compassion

Double lung transplant recipient Debora Dearring

Debora Dearring lived at Hospital Henry Ford for nine months, seven of them waiting and praying for a double lung transplant that would save her life.

The days and months were long and she was grateful for any little kindness. When the kitchen sent up her favorite not-on-the-menu fried eggs, she cried.

Debora, 63, was diagnosed in 2010 with sarcoidosis — a chronic disease that caused debilitating lesions in her lungs. Her doctor’s news was shocking: She couldn’t leave the hospital until she had new lungs.

“I thought I’d be there two weeks, maybe a month, tops,” she said. “The day they finally told me I was getting lungs, I could barely scream, but I screamed as much as I could.”

Debora’s voice is louder now, powered by healthy lungs and determination to help others.

During her months at the Detroit hospital, growing weaker as she waited, “I refused to give up on myself,” she said. “There’s always hope. Never diminish that. Sometimes it’s all you have.”

She handed out index cards, asking visitors and hospital staff to jot down encouraging words. The cards covered her room’s walls, more than 330 in all.

“I’d look at the cards and think, ‘OK, I can do this.’”

After her 2015 transplant, Debora visited and reassured nervous transplant candidates when doctors or nurses asked her to spread her positivity.

One day she encountered a transplant candidate mired in negativity and asked him what made him happy. He brightened up and told her how he built model railroads, so Debora helped him fill a poster board with pictures of his trains and smiling loved ones. He got his new lungs. They still keep in touch.

“There’s joy in just knowing you can help someone else,” Debora said.

Soon she was visiting area churches and community events, sharing her story and signing people up on the Registro de donantes de órganos de Michigan.

“I’ll go anywhere and set up a table, you better believe it,” Debora said. When she spoke at her church, New St. Mark Baptist Church, she signed up 20 new organ donors on the spot.

Every time somebody stops at her folding table and registers it’s a victory, she said. “But it’s more of a victory for them.”

She’s active with the Programa de Educación sobre Trasplante de Tejidos de Órganos de Minorías de Detroit (MOTTEP), where she helps organize events such as the annual LIFE Caminar / Correr at Belle Isle State Park in Detroit.

Debora is also on the board of directors of La casa de la esperanza de Aarolyn, a nonprofit working to open a house in Detroit for out-of-town transplant patients and their families to stay.

Debora said she’s grateful for life, her organ donor and the support of her family and friends “every day I open my eyes.”

Something changes in you after you receive an organ transplant, Debora said — beyond the new lungs or kidney.

“Maybe it’s empowerment,” she mused. “Empowerment to do good, to have a purpose.

“The purpose I have now is to encourage people, enlighten them, educate them,” Debora said. “So many people invested time and care and compassion in me. I want to give all those things now.”

Read more in the LifeLINES newsletter

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