FALLON WOMAN lived life to the fullest
Special to the LVN
We have all encountered people in our lives that inspire us to be better. These people, through everyday interactions, seem to lift up those around them and give us hope in our own humanity. The best way to describe these extraordinary individuals would be to call them what they are, lifters. Lifters raise our souls to heights never expected and inspire us to lift others. Denise DeBerry is a lifter.
Denise was married, owned a home, drove a car, snow skied, traveled and rode a bicycle. Although these might be considered common, achievable, normal, or maybe unremarkable, Denise was remarkable in what she accomplished, what she overcame and how she lived her life to the fullest. Knowing her instills in everyone who knew her, a reminder of how to live fuller, complain less, and be thankful.
AN ABNORMAL BIRTH
Denise was born on a cold, snowy day, Feb. 4, 1964 to Don and Laura DeBerry at the U.S. Air Force hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was a different day and time.
In 1964 the technology that we have now, more specifically ultrasounds, had not come into use during a pregnancy. Parents didn’t know the gender of their children, if the baby was developing normally or if there might be complications arising. Denise had developed abnormally and there were unforeseen complications.
Denise was born with Spina Bifida; the neural tube had not closed correctly and a portion of her spine was only covered by a thin skin layer appearing blister like. She was also born with a mass the size of a person’s fist on the right side of her hip, lacked one kidney, and had scoliosis — a sideways curvature of the spine.
“I wasn’t allowed to see my daughter the first day,” explained Laura DeBerry. “They were trying to figure out what was wrong with her, and they wouldn’t answer any of my questions.” It was evident that the medical professionals were at a loss on how to help prepare the family for Denise’s disability.
Denise required more help than could be given at Alamogordo. After 10 days she was moved to Beaumont Hospital in El Paso, Texas, where there was a higher level of care. Her hospital stays were often and extensive most of her life. When she was two she spent five months in The Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake, Utah.
“Back then, parents were literally forced to leave their children while they received care because they thought we would interfere with treatment. It was very difficult for us to leave her,” Laura DeBerry explained.
Shriner’s hospitals were extremely helpful in meeting her orthopedic concerns as a child and teen. It was there, she was outfitted with leg braces and arm crutches which enabled her to walk on her own. Most would think leg braces and arm crutches would be a deterrent for Denise, but it provided an extension to her mobility, which led her to learning how to ride her tricycle with only one leg.
“One day when Denise was about three, I looked outside and there was Denise pedaling away, but what was remarkable was that her friend was right alongside her pedaling with one leg too,” Laura DeBerrry said. “Children didn’t see Denise’s disability because she found ways to join them and they learned how to adapt.”
Denise’s internal medical needs soon overrode her orthopedic need, so she was moved again to the University of Utah’s Primary Children’s Hospital. She required surgery to bypass her one kidney, in turn making it necessary to have a stoma placed to aide her urinary and digestive systems. Denise would learn how to care for herself and her medical needs out of pure will to become independent.
family MOVES TO FALLON
Denise spent the first few years of school in Victorville, Calif., where the family had relocated from Salt Lake when her father took a job with the Federal Aviation Administration. During this time it was common for students with disabilities to be separated from the mainstream population and placed in classes with other handicapped children.
Recalling that, Laura DeBerry shared, “The class allowed the students to rest whenever necessary. Denise learned how to take advantage of the situation. If she didn’t like what they were doing in class she would find herself too tired to participate.” Mom and Dad corrected that.
Next, the family moved to Puerto Rico where there were no separate classes for children with disabilities. Denise was placed in a regular classroom with no special treatment and was just one of the kids.
“That was good for Denise. As one of the kids, she tried more things and learned she was able to do just about anything,” Laura DeBerry said.
It was there in Puerto Rico where she gained confidence that enabled her to overcome so many of the obstacles she faced.
The DeBerry family moved to Fallon and Denise remained there for most of the rest of her life. Here, Denise’s orthopedic care continued through The Shriner’s Hospital in San Francisco. They took care of her special needs until she was 18 years old.
Denise attended all levels of school in Fallon and on her first day of junior high school, she came home announcing that she was quitting.
“Denise complained about how she couldn’t carry her books from one class to the next and decided that she couldn’t physically do it, so she was going to quit,” her mother said. “Thankfully, a teacher suggested that she have a set of books at home and one in each of her classes at school. The problem was solved.”
Just like any teenager, Denise had the goal to get her driver’s license. She was 3-feet tall and without the use of her left leg, a car that had hand controls on the steering column for acceleration and breaking was needed. Her dad was able to find her just that.
“She loved the independence a car gave her. She was a good driver, maintaining a clean driving record and was never involved in an accident,” Laura DeBerry pointed out.
Denise had several jobs after graduating from Churchill County High School and eventually she became a phone operator at Naval Air Station Fallon. This was a perfect fit because she was a good communicator, had a pleasant voice and wasn’t restricted by any physical demands.
When the job was eliminated by technology upgrades, she moved to the base firehouse as a dispatcher. The position allowed her to earn and save enough money to purchase her own home.
“The firemen took good care of her,” Laura DeBerry said. “They helped her move in and would do maintenance on her home. They helped her with anything she needed.”
Denise’s last full-time job on the base was as a comptroller.
As she became older, her breathing issues caused by the scoliosis became debilitating. She was eventually forced to spend several weeks in the hospital on a ventilator. She would have to rely on oxygen from that point on. Her base coworkers graciously donated sick leave which covered the month of her illness and rehabilitation. She tried to come back to work, but it was just too difficult to spend eight hours a day, five days a week at her job. Denise retired after working a total of 12 years on the base.
denise MEETS LOVE OF HER LIFE
A new and different chapter in life began when Lisa Erquiaga reached out to Laura DeBerry, when her son, Owen, was born with Spina Bifida. Laura DeBerry gladly helped out, remembering how she had no support in the time that Denise was born. This relationship provided an opportunity that eventually led to Denise beginning another layer of independence.
Erquiaga at one time was the coordinator for the Center for Independent Living and had invited Denise to a retreat at Frenchman’s Lake. The camp had activities and the personnel to enable the attendees to participate in different outdoor activities they normally may not have had the opportunity for.
It was here that Densie met Tye. They hit if off from the start enjoying each other’s company. Tye has muscular dystrophy and is wheelchair bound. That encounter led them to dating and after several years they were married in 2000.
“Tye and Denise were married on a ship during one of their cruises,” Laura DeBerry said. “We didn’t know how they would manage their first dance together, but when the music started, Denise sat on Tye’s lap and he twirled them around the dance floor in his wheelchair. They were amazing together!”
Tye and Denise took part in downhill skiing, jet skiing, and bowling with other couples. Denise would sit on her knees to see out the front window of the car and drive the both of them to San Francisco, Yuma (Arizona) and anywhere else they wanted to go. They even traveled to Alaska twice on cruise tours. Their disabilities didn’t slow them down.
“You couldn’t tell Denise not to do something. That would always bring a corresponding challenge to prove you wrong. She could do almost anything. She never gave up,” Laura DeBerry added.
Doctors had told Don and Laura that Denise’s body would not support her past her teen years. Several decades later, at the age of 44, her battle came to an end.
Sharing one of the last conversations between them, Laura DeBerry said, “Denise told me that she had had a good life and that she could accept that. She didn’t let it be known that life wasn’t fair.”
Her attitude about her “good life” inspired those around her to appreciate the lives we’ve been given. Denise was a lifter because she reminds us of what adventures we can achieve, what self-sufficiency means, what determination affords you, and what a caring community can do. Denise, thank you for lifting us and teaching us how to truly live.