Share this story

 | By Erin Looby Carlson

Seeking prayers ahead of face transplant

Two years after sharing his story, Derek believes his mission is to help others

Almost two years after Derek Pfaff and his family met privately with Bishop Robert Gruss at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw, they returned. This time, not in private.

Having received an outpouring of love and support after sharing his story in 2021, 28-year-old Derek has become more comfortable being around others and giving his testimony. Derek’s face transplant is expected to finally happen this summer. In anticipation, the Pfaffs traveled from Harbor Beach to the Cathedral to experience the Lord’s tender mercy during an Evening of Healing on May 19.

“One of the reasons we went is for Derek’s upcoming surgery,” said Derek’s mother, Lisa Pfaff. “But, we also came praying for the strength to go through all that is in front of us. As I left on Friday, I felt some of my stress lift ... and I had peace.”

What is ahead for Derek is a 58-hour surgery and then recovery. For the rest of the family, it means months of separation. Lisa and Derek will take up residence near Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where the surgery will take place, for the procedure and healing process.

Derek and his family say they have been overwhelmed by the response they have received since first sharing their story with FAITH Saginaw (now Great Lakes Bay Catholic), two years ago.

“The number of letters and cards, the encouragement that Derek received ... it was overwhelming,” Lisa said. “I don’t even know how to word it; everybody was reaching out. We are so grateful.”

Generous donations for Derek’s surgery came in from across the Diocese, and his story was picked up nationally, helping increase funds. In total, more than $350,000 has been raised. It’s a significant sum, yet only a fraction of the $3.2 million procedure, which will involve more than 80 surgeons and is not covered by insurance. Still, the Pfaffs have decided to move forward, and Derek is expected to go on the donor list soon.

“At the Cathedral, two couples came up to Derek and said, ‘We recognize you from the magazine story and we pray for you every day,’” Lisa said. “It meant so much to Derek to meet people whom he doesn’t know, but who are praying for him.”

Derek, who survived a suicide attempt in the early morning hours of March 5, 2014, has fought to live every day since. He and his family say God has been their hope and strength. Derek hopes his story will give courage to others to talk about the struggles they are facing and avoid the pain he has endured. In recent months, he has talked with hundreds of people at various speaking engagements.

When asked what he hopes to do after his face transplant, Derek shared, “What I’m doing right now:  helping others by sharing my story.”

The Pfaff family, who are members at Holy Name of Mary Parish in Harbor Beach, continues to ask for prayers in the weeks and months ahead, not only for them, but also for Derek’s future donor and his donor’s family.

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, have suicidal thoughts or know someone who needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.