"I have what's called hydrocephalus. That's where you have to have a tube in your head that drains fluid to your stomach. I've had 200 surgeries on my head, 100 on my back," he says.
By the age of 18, the Saint Clair Shores resident underwent somewhere between 450 and 500 operations. Dereck endures constant pain. He's suffered seizures, strokes, lost his depth perception and has had blind spells that last weeks.
But, instead of lying down and giving up, the Warren Woods Tower graduate takes a different approach.
"It was get depressed and not like life or find humor and joy," says Dereck.
Now he's spreading that joy to others drowning in pain or poverty.
Every weekday morning, Derek wakes up and puts a headphone softly playing music from his favorite playlist in his right ear. It helps distract him from the pain in his head. Then, he either takes a bus or rides his rickety old bike to Hope Center Macomb.
He's been volunteering there full-time for the past four and half years. The organization connects those in need with community resources. One of its main objectives is to wipe out hunger in Macomb County where one in five children goes to bed hungry at night.
Now 24, Derek doesn't just perform the manual labor that comes with volunteering at a busy food bank, he's also become somewhat of a spiritual and emotional advisor to the clients.
Dereck doesn't get paid for his work at the Hope Center, yet the service he provides is invaluable.
"It will get better. I'm evidence of that. You have to look at the bright side no matter how small it is," says Dereck.
Those who know him will tell you angels do exist and walk among them.
"When he's here he is Jesus' hands and feet. He passes out hope as well as food, and he's able to touch lives," says Dereck's mother, Danee.
To find out more call the Hope Center Macomb at 586-294-HOPE or go online to http://www.hopecentermacomb.org/.
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