Debi and The Delta Variant
A True Story
She was the mama bear at our shelter. Debi was part of Project Recovery and Project Well-Being working hard for her sobriety and mental health. During group she was always ready with words of encouragement and thoughtful advice. Her positive energy and her warmth brought so much light and love into any room she entered.
When we got the good news that our shelter would be offered the Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccine, Debi was scared. She had heard bad things about the vaccination and did not want to take the risk. As each of our guests got their vaccination they encouraged Debi to do the same. They wanted her to see that they were ok so that would give her confidence to take this life saving measure for herself. We all loved her and wanted to make sure she would be safe as the variant moved into our community.
All the encouragement eventually worked and Debi made the big decision to get her vaccination. The day before her scheduled appointment, Debi did not feel well. We did a COVID test on her and it came back positive. We quickly moved her to The Covid Positive Hotel where she got sicker and sicker. We eventually had her moved to the hospital where she remained for 3 weeks. Right before they put her on the ventilator she called to speak with the Project Well Being Group. She told us that she loved us and she’d let us know how she was doing once she could talk again. That day never came. Debi died from the Delta Variant.
Here is what we know about The Delta Variant:
• The Delta variant is more contagious: The Delta variant is highly contagious, more than 2x as contagious as previous variants.
• Some data suggest the Delta variant might cause more severe illness than previous variants in unvaccinated people.
• Unvaccinated people remain the greatest concern: The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to get infected, and therefore transmit the virus.
Please get vaccinated.
Debi’s Memorial 9/16/21
Guests, staff, and friends of Debi gathered behind the shelter on Thursday night for a service in honor of her life; all wearing shirts tie-dyed orange, Debi’s favorite color. Mark Schlegel-Preheim, the mission coordinator at Corpus Christi House, remembered Debi’s laughter, kindness, and warmth. “She was a strong part of your life and a strong part of our community,” he said.
Lucy Florez, an assistant with Interfaith’s Project Well-Being, said Debi brought joy to everyone who came to class. “She was like the light of our lives,” Florez said. “Debi was like family to us; she was like a second mother to me. She would give me advice. If I texted a stupid boy, she’d slap me on the wrist. Or, if I was feeling down, she would give me a hug. She was always there when you needed someone. I know she’s watching over us right now. I’m just happy she’s not in pain anymore.”
Chris, an artist in residence at Interfaith Sanctuary, loved listening to Debi tell stories and said she gave invaluable advice. “I always wanted to hire her to be the voice of reason,” he said. “I told her I would put her in the back of my house in case I had any questions, like an oracle. She has a lot of cool stuff to say. We miss her. She was a sweet lady.”
Melanie, who participates in Project Well-Being, said Debi was constantly setting examples for others. “The most inspirational thing about Debi is her resiliency. She’s such a fighter. Her resiliency can take a blow, and she can get back up. She’s just a really good role model. No matter what she does wrong, she always makes it right by doing the right thing. We need more people like her,” she said.
“I look up to her. She’s just an amazing person. And she always gave really good advice as a mother figure. If I was having complications in my life or my relationship, she would always tell me the most important things and always tell me to breathe – that everything will be okay. And I knew from then on that everything would be okay.”
Asked to share her favorite memory of Debi, Melanie recalled sitting outside with Debi, who had a new pair of dentures but was worried the bright white color was too much. “I reminded her that she promised she would put them in and show me,” Melanie said. “And the next day, she came to class with her teeth in, she had that orange jumpsuit on, and she just looked so beautiful.”
Debi was also a mother, and Kevin, a friend of Debi’s and a guest at the shelter, came across a woman who had several photographs of Debi with her children years ago watching the Raiders play, her favorite sports team. After her death, Kevin got a copy of a photo of Debi bowling with Project Well-Being. “That was the only time I’ve ever seen somebody take a bowling ball, and the bowling ball went backward,” he laughed.
“I got that picture (of the group) and it was a great picture. I got an 11×14 canvas print of it. It was everything that I wanted it to be,” Kevin said. “It hangs above the lamp at the end of our dining room table. And at night, the lamp shines right on it. That picture stays here. That is a memorial. She had an impact on a lot of people.”
Debi played a key role in Kevin’s recovery. He met her at the warming shelter in Boise, and she encouraged him to stay sober and come to class to enter the second phase of Project Recovery. “She showed me the compassion of welcoming me, calling me by name, and between Debi and Terrence, they allowed me to let my guard down. Debi was over here, and she was in the program, and I was a week behind. She encouraged me, and I finally got over here,” he said.
“Debi was just an original person. She cared about a lot of people. Debi didn’t give up. And I’ve seen that woman grow…she was working hard for schooling, she was working on trying to get enrolled into that, on getting her license. Debi was getting there little by little. She made me feel comfortable. She made everybody feel comfortable.”
Interfaith Sanctuary’s Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers closed the memorial with a call for community members to care for each other as COVID-19 surges locally. “If Debi had an extra day, she would get that vaccination, and she would be with us today. Honor her and honor us by making the work of Interfaith easier. We don’t want to lose anyone else,” she said.
“Our hospitals are now in crisis management. That means if someone gets sick, they might not be able to get treated at a hospital. What we can do here at Interfaith is we can take care of our own. We can wear our masks, and if at all possible, we can get vaccinated so those that are vaccinated will not feel responsible for loss of life.”
Family Medicine Residency of Idaho (FMRI) has partnered with the shelter to run a vaccine clinic on Tuesday, September 21. Shelter staff will help transport anyone who wants to get vaccinated to the clinic, and the team is testing and quarantining guests with nowhere else to stay at a hotel.
“Debi’s loss needs to matter; it needs to matter because she saved lives,” Peterson-Stigers said.