Diocese to share original FAITHvideo this Sunday: ‘Derek, a Journey of Faith, Hope and Love: An Inspiring Story of Life after Attempted Suicide’

Video will air on Sunday, March 28 at 11:30 a.m., on WNEM TV5

SAGINAW - In late January, a mother from Harbor Beach reached out to FAITH Saginaw with a desire to share her son’s story. She said the family had never publicly shared their journey before and she felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to reach out.

Lisa Pfaff then explained that in the early morning hours of March 5, 2014, Ash Wednesday, her son Derek, who was a high school football standout and had recently finished his first semester of college with a 4.0, attempted to take his own life. Lisa said Derek pushed himself to do his best in all he did. He had been struggling in his transition to college. However, neither she nor anyone else in the family could ever have imagined what he would do.

The unimaginable 

“I heard the loudest scream that I have ever, ever heard in my life,” Lisa said. “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.”

After calling 911, Lisa called her parents to have their priest at Our Lady of Lake Huron in Harbor Beach, Father Bill Spencer, get to the hospital as quickly as possible to anoint and bless their son.

“He was knocking at the door and he kept knocking,” Father Spencer said. “I opened the door and I saw who it was … and he told me about his grandson being down at the hospital.”

Divine intervention 

When Father Bill arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night, Derek was still alive. 

The surgeon in the Harbor Beach Community Hospital emergency room had saved Derek’s life. However, the surgeon says the credit doesn’t belong to her. Who does Dr. Kelly O’ Sullivan say guided her hands? And how did a maintenance man named “Joe,” who Lisa met only once, provide consolation when she needed it most? After seven years and 58 surgeries ... what's the next big step in Derek’s journey? 

A journey of faith, hope and love

This Sunday, watch Derek, a Journey of Faith, Hope and Love: An Inspiring Story of Life after Attempted Suicide beginning at 11:30 a.m. on WNEM TV5.

“I encourage people to watch this story, which witnesses to how God can bring forth good from even the darkest of circumstances,” said Bishop Robert Gruss. “It is a powerful testimony to our faith. This beautiful family has experienced a great tragedy. And somehow, by the grace of God, this family lives their lives with hope and gratitude.”

Prior to production, Bishop Gruss met with and blessed Derek and his family during a private meeting at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw.  

A much larger community

“It was a moving moment,” said Erin Looby Carlson, communications director and FAITH Saginaw editor. “During my initial conversation with Lisa, I felt in my heart that, in many ways, the Pfaff family, their Catholic church and school, and the greater community of Harbor Beach have been carrying this heavy cross on their own with grace and courage. Yet, they are part of a much larger community - the entire Diocese of Saginaw. Bishop Gruss welcomed the Pfaff family at the Cathedral, which belongs to all. He gave them an opportunity to share their story with the entire “family” to ease their burden, a reminder of our connection to one another as members of the Body of Christ.


“This connection was apparent shortly after we began to record interviews, when our partner in production, Barnes Chase & Davis partner, Chris Gildenstern, said he would be gifting all of his agency’s time on this story,” Looby Carlson said. “This incredibly generous offer significantly expanded our ability to share Derek’s story, allowing us to travel to Harbor Beach numerous times, as well as to Detroit and Ann Arbor in Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and Vancouver, Washington. We couldn’t have put together the story we did without Gildenstern’s gift of time and talent, which flowed from his compassion and belief that Derek will make a difference in the lives of others.”

Derek's hope

And that is the hope. The words: Derek’s Pain ‘4’ Purpose are etched in black lettering on the orange bracelets sold to raise funds to support his medical expenses (black and orange are Harbor Beach’s school colors). Derek’s hope is that by sharing his story, he will give strength to others to talk about the struggles they are facing and reach out for help, avoiding the pain he has endured.  

Following the Sunday broadcast on WNEM TV5 at 11:30 a.m., Derek, a Journey of Faith, Hope and Love: An Inspiring Story of Life after Attempted Suicide will be available on demand on this website.

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, click here.