ROCKINGHAM — Debbie Griggs doesn’t drink or smoke, but at 62, she is No. 1 on the list of North Carolinians waiting for a liver transplant.
The mother of three and grandmother of eight celebrated her 41st wedding anniversary with her husband, Donald, on Tuesday. They hope for more anniversaries, but Griggs said she is thankful for all the goodness in her life and believes that everything happens for a reason.
Griggs and her family keep their cellphones on at all times, waiting for a call from Duke University Medical Center. Any moment could be the one when she hears “it’s time. Try and leave within the hour.”
“It’s already happened to us five times,” Donald Griggs said. “Yes, five.”
Griggs said she has nearly received the potentially life-saving liver transplant five times, only to be turned away at the last minute. She remains calm and patient despite the uncertainty.
“Saturday they called me up there,” she said. “They told us to come on, and we got there, all the way to the operating room doors. They were operating on the donor. But they had to wake me up. The doctor told me he wasn’t satisfied with the donor liver’s condition. He ordered a biopsy on it and found it was all fatty tissue and could not be used.”
Griggs explained that the first signs of trouble began in 2012. After experiencing “off and on” bouts of internal bleeding through that year, she went in for an endoscopy and a CAT scan. Soon afterward, she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.
Some time later, Griggs said she became ill and went to Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst.
“I went to Moore County and told them I didn’t feel good,” Griggs said. “I don’t even know how I got there. My heart rate when they checked it was only 41. My preacher and his wife were there praying over me and then they said my heart rate started rising. I stayed in intensive care for a week before I was airlifted to Duke.”
Griggs’ daughter, Amy Tucker, said learning the seriousness of her mother’s condition was hard for her and sisters Traci Morrison and Lauren Griggs.
“I was terrified,” Tucker said. “She’s an undeserving person for it to happen to.”
Tucker’s best friend and longtime extended family member Crystal Gardner said she knew she had to take action.
“The first week she was in Duke, I approached Marshall (Berry),” Gardner said. “God laid it on my heart to do something for the family. I’ve known them for 35 years. She’s a second momma to me.”
Berry has organized benefit fundraisers or community families in need for several years, and his friendly face is well known around Pat’s Kitchen on U.S. 74.
“I’ve been doing these for about 13 years,” Berry said. “I’ve had some heart problems lately though, so I stopped for a few months. When Crystal and Amy approached me, I told Pat that since my doctors told me to do the best I could, I decided to keep doing what I love. It’s such a special feeling it gives when you do something to help someone else.”
On Saturday, Berry will do just that. The benefit will be held at Pat’s Kitchen from noon to 6 p.m. All proceeds from meals, raffle tickets and the silent and live auctions will go directly to the Griggs family to help cover the expenses she incurs traveling to and from Durham and for unexpected stays in hotels close to the hospital.
Barbecue and fried chicken plates will be on sale for $7 each with free delivery of five or more plates. Three gospel groups are set to perform throughout the day for entertainment. The auction begins at 5 p.m.
“They can come in and eat,” Berry said. “Help us raise the money, then get a whole afternoon of entertainment.”
For more information, call Pat’s Kitchen at 910-895-0683, Marshall Berry at 910-331-4204 or Crystal Gardner at 910-995-7260.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @melonieflomer.