Debra Smith and her only child, Jennipher Lorber, were the dynamic duo. “It was us against the world,” says Jennipher.
Debra was the fun mom. The life of the party. But she was strict, too. She was a friend, a mentor and nurtured an open-door policy. Jennipher’s friends were envious of their relationship. They always wanted to hang out at their house even with rules and structure. Jennipher shares that if she ever complained about chores or curfew, Debra had one signature “mom” response:
“I went to Mean Mom’s School and got straight A’s!”
Some of Jennipher’s friends now use the same phrase. Debra is iconic in their circle.
The truth is Debra was the mom, friend and partner who was and did everything – she planned parties, trips, ran the Bunko! group, was a member of Toastmasters, engaged in charity work. She never tired and was bigger than life.
Debra was also proud of her real estate career in Helena, Mont. In 2016, she won the recognition of “Realtor of the Year.” She saw her daughter get married. She was enjoying life with her high school sweetheart. She was the happiest she had ever been. Then a sudden stroke cut her vibrant life short.
Jennipher and her husband were on day two of their honeymoon in Thailand when they got the news. It took 36 hours for them to fly back to Montana and to Debra’s bedside.
Debra was a registered organ donor for as long as Jennipher could remember. Her mom showed her the red heart, which back then was just a sticker on her license. She wanted Jennipher to remember what the red heart meant. When the time came, Jennipher and her stepdad knew what would come next.
“If they could save anything and help others, she would want it,” says Jennipher. “It made me feel better to know that parts of her are still alive out there.”
Debra saved four people through the donation of her kidneys, liver and lungs. She restored sight to two others and healed countless more through tissue donation.
Jennipher wrote to all of her mom’s recipients. Only one of the kidney recipients returned her letter; a 76-year-old man named Ralph who is married, has grown children, and thanks to Debra’s gift – four grandchildren who he gets to enjoy. Prior to his kidney transplant, he was on daily dialysis with little quality of life. Now, he can even golf again. Ralph talks to Debra and to their kidney daily. Jennipher spent a weekend with Ralph and his family, which was therapeutic for her as she missed her mom terribly.
As many donor families can attest, organ donation is a beautiful legacy to leave. But it still hurts. Jennipher is fortunate to have experienced a lifetime of memories in the 40 years she shared with her mom. They also filmed two reality shows together: an HGTV House Hunters show in Helena and “Something Borrowed, Something New,” a fun wedding dress show where Jennipher was presented with the choice of a brand-new wedding dress or a modernized version of her mom’s ‘70s dress. Jennipher says she can watch these shows again to hear her mom’s voice, laugh and experience how she made her feel.
There were more than 500 people at Debra’s service. The family requested that guests write down a memory they shared with Debra for the family to read later. Most of those memories included how Debra made them feel like they were the only person in the room. That’s a sentiment Jennipher knows all too well. She hopes that all her mom’s recipients have every opportunity to live their best life because her mom would have wanted that.
“Especially the liver recipient,” says Jennipher with a laugh. “I wanted to joke with them and ask if they suddenly had a taste for margaritas.” Debra loved tequila. She loved life.
You can make a difference in the lives of others by simply registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Register your life-saving decision today on our website at lcnw.org.