Hoping to get a second chance at life, the son "has overcome all of it and he's my hero," the mother said.
Derek Pfaff has no memory of what happened on the traumatic night of March 5, 2014; he doesn't remember where he got a gun from, and he can't remember pulling the trigger. When his parents noticed he wasn't in his bedroom or in the basement, they went looking for him outside and found their 19-year-old son lying in a pile of red snow.
"I heard the loudest scream that I have ever, ever heard in my life," recalled Derek's mother, Lisa, as quoted by The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw. "My husband just started yelling and screaming, 'No, Derek, no, no!' And he yelled, 'He shot himself.' It's a feeling that you just can't describe. The emotion, and what to do. Is he alive? Is he dead? Just the heartbreak. I just remember screaming over and over, and over again, and watching Jerry pull him, and putting him in a vehicle to get him up to the hospital. I called 911 and just started yelling in the phone."
Believing she was going to lose her son that night, Lisa told People, "I completely lost my mind. It's very heart-wrenching. I truly believed he was going to die that night."
Before the night he shot himself, Derek was the "all-American kid," and is the second out of five children born to Lisa and Jerry. "He was an avid football player, he was an all-state running back... he had a passion for people," recalled his mum. "He's always been very giving and very caring about others."
After graduating high school and going on to pursue his degree in nursing, Derek began putting "a lot of pressure on himself" because he was eager to excel. "He always [wanted to] be the best he could be. And the second semester of college came around. The classes were harder and I could see that he was putting more and more pressure on himself," Lisa shared.
When Derek was back home from college on spring break, his family found him on the ground one night with the life-changing gunshot wound after he attempted suicide. He was then shifted between different hospitals and had to be hooked up to 28 bags and tubes that kept him alive, according to a GoFundMe page set up by the family.
"During the last seven years, Derek has undergone 58 facial reconstructive surgeries," Lisa shared.
Now 26 years old, Derek uses a feeding machine and has a tracheostomy to help with his breathing. In 2020, when Derek finally qualified for a face transplant, the family could "see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was approved for the surgery, pending the funding."
Hoping to raise enough funds for the transplant, the family set up the GoFundMe page and decided to share his story because "he's very committed to helping others and sharing his story. He's overcome all of it and he's my hero," Lisa told People.
She added, "My heart hurts for him. As a mother, you want to fix it for your children, and there's nothing that I can do right now besides love and support him."
Over the last seven years, Derek and his family have come a long way. And they hope that the transplant will let Derek eat and breathe on his own, along with giving him a second chance at life.
If you or someone you know shows signs of suicidal thoughts, please reach out to 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Cover image source: GoFundMe