From building classrooms to building an orphanage, community shows outpouring
of support for man who helps others
After a week delivering Christmas presents to an orphanage, Jasper Bojangles Manager Derek Key and his father were traveling through the Dominican Republic on their way home to the U.S. when a man driving a scooter without headlights pulled out in front of them.
Derek’s father swerved to avoid him and their car flipped, leaving them injured and helpless in a town with no ambulances.
Exhausted from his week of charity work, Key had fallen asleep in the back of the car his father Randall was driving. A fellow church member, Sam Rogers, was also with them. Unrestrained, the 35-year-old Derek was thrown from the car, fracturing five vertebrae, cracking six ribs, breaking his shoulder, scapula and wrist. But, according to Bojangles Owner Kristal Beaver, her manager’s worst injuries were internal - collapsed lungs and severe bleeding.
“Derek and his father were leaving Haiti with the mission group and you have to go through the Dominican Republic. They were in Higuey, Dominican Republic when the accident happened,” she said.
Beaver said the town has no ambulance service but a man in a pickup truck stopped to help them, ushering them to a nearby hospital.
Derek spent three days in a hospital in Higuey before being airlifted to Erlanger. That flight cost the family $20,000 cash.
Beaver said there are many “mercy flights” where generous pilots offer their services to help people in need but because of Key’s injuries a standard flight wasn’t an option.
“He had so much internal bleeding he had to be in a pressurized cabin so he had to be on an air ambulance and not a mercy flight,” she said.
Derek underwent back surgery at Erlanger in Chattanooga in January. Despite several blood clots in addition to his other injuries, Derek still wasn’t out of the woods.
“After the back surgery he contracted E.Coli. His body has been trying to fight off all these things. It’s been so hard,” Beaver said.
Derek’s Haitian story began in 2005 when he and his father took their first trip to the poverty-stricken country to build a school.
“They built six classrooms (over a period of two years). Then they went back in 2010 after the hurricane and purchased land for an orphanage. So their first trip was to help educate the children and then after the hurricane their second trip was to have a place for the (displaced) children,” Beaver said.
According to Beaver, Derek and his father travelled back to Haiti again this past December to deliver Christmas presents to the children at the orphanage they helped build.
“I first learned about all his work back when he was still just a customer here (at Bojangles) and I was just so enamored with his passion and will to help people,” Beaver said.
Beaver said Derek’s mother, Brenda Smith, who has Leukemia, stayed by his side during his four-week hospitalization.
“She didn’t leave his side for one moment. It’s such a testament to their love for each other. It’s really such an amazing love story all the way around.”
Ms. Smith, who postponed chemotherapy treatments to stay by her son’s side, will resume treatment within the next month.
A week after he arrived home, Beaver set up an account to help pay for Derek’s mounting medical bills.
Although Bojangles offers health insurance for its managers, Derek, a previously healthy-35-year-old, opted to use the money that would have been spent on his coverage to help his mom with her medical ills stemming from the Leukemia treatments.
Beaver said her goal was to deposit $100 a day into Derek’s medical account and they’ve met that goal every day. One day last week they exceeded the goal by depositing $250 into the account.
“He calls that his therapy account. He’s finally home from the hospital and he starts therapy (this) week.”
Derek’s prognosis is good, Beaver said, and he credits prayers for his recovery.
“I don’t know if I could have made it through this whole ordeal, mentally or physically, without the prayers of the people from Pickens and the surrounding counties,” Derek said.
Beaver said locals have been “phenomenal” in their support of Derek, who lives in Ellijay with his mother.
“So many of the local churches have had people stand in for prayer for him. It’s been phenomenal. That’s what I love about Pickens County.”
Beaver said she is holding Derek’s job as manager at the Jasper Bojangles until he can get back on his feet.
Beaver is planning a fundraiser at the end of March. Look for details as they are announced in the Pickens Progress.