With a “handicapped Harley” and a portable oxygen tank, DeLaine Pate of Snellville, a wife and mother of two daughters, took what life handed her with a positive attitude mixed with a great sense of humor.
“She was a very strong lady, maybe not physically, but her will was amazing. She did the best she could with what life gave her,” Bob Pate said.
“When she went on oxygen, at first she was a bit embarrassed about it. And then when she couldn’t walk around, she ended up with a three-wheeled scooter, which she called her handicapped Harley.
"She was always great at keeping the humor up, keeping the positive attitude up, always joking with the kids. Her attitude through all this was just amazing,” Pate recalled.
One time, when daughter, Lindsey, needed her first piece of intimate apparel, the family lore goes, DeLaine loaded her and her sister into her minivan to make the purchase. However, this petite lady of 87 pounds couldn’t resist donning a 44D bra and chasing her daughters around the store on her “Harley.”
“It was hilarious,” Pate said.
On St. Patrick’s Day, she had her younger daughter, Leah, convinced that there was a leprechaun in the house, Pate said.
“At school, there was a running joke among the teachers. They would go into each other’s’ classrooms, mess them up, and blame it on the leprechaun. We had a felt hat that looked like a leprechaun hat.
"When Leah was playing outside, DeLaine went into the master bedroom and messed up the bed. She poked the leprechaun hat up and down in front of the window and then would sit in her chair. She did this three different times. Leah just knew that there was a leprechaun running through the house,” according to her husband.
And the family continues the tradition of eating Oreo cheesecake before dinner on March 23, DeLaine’s birthday. DeLaine always said, “You should eat dessert first because you just never know what might happen.”
DeLaine, an avid garage seller, also loved a bargain. “We still have a ficus tree in the house that she grabbed from someone’s garbage,” Pate said, laughing.
DeLaine was known for her love of animals. The family rescued Buddy, a golden retriever, who would follow DeLaine everywhere around the house.
The Early Years
When making career plans, DeLaine Pate, a clinical nurse specialist, considered veterinary school. Having grown up in Auburn, Ala., DeLaine knew what she wanted.
“When she turned 16, she automatically got a job," Pate said. "She wanted to be independent and make her own money.”
DeLaine and her husband met as juniors in high school. DeLaine, an A student, prodded Bob to become an A student, too. They went to Auburn University together and DeLaine decided to major in nursing, realizing that with Bob’s decision to join the Air Force, it would be a better fit for her career wise.
The Pates married the August after college graduation. Bob started pilot training in the Air Force in December. Pilot training was tough on the new family at first.
“When I had to report at 4:30 a.m. and DeLaine was working seven days on and seven days off, she would get up early and make me breakfast," Pate said. "She was one of the main reasons that I flew the airplane that I wanted to. She always supported me and the family 110 percent.”
Following training, the couple received their first assignment to Germany. Pate remembers his wife being upset at first. But, he added, she made the best of it. She also took two German college courses there and took to the culture.
"We had a blast, traveled around Europe, made great friends, and actually tried to extend a year," he said. "That shows her character – she always made the best of everything.”
The two arrived to Germany in August of 1985, and by the next year, Pate noted the beginning of DeLaine’s illness. She had pneumonia three times over a two-month period. A pilot in Bitburg, Germany, Pate consulted with the hospital commander, a full colonel. The colonel went to the person in charge of internal medicine and said, “Your number one job is to find out what’s wrong with his wife.”
Making the Most of Life
Several months and several hospitals later, the Pates learned that DeLaine had hypogammaglobulinemia, a rare immune disorder marked by a reduction in gammaglobulins that fight infection.
DeLaine's body stopped producing the one that protected her pulmonary system. So every month, DeLaine would receive an infusion of IV gammaglobulin, but she was still susceptible to pneumonia.
“Wherever the infection would be, scarring would occur, and she could no longer use that part of her lung,” Pate said.
The couple knew they wanted children, but it was risky considering DeLaine's illness. But, her husband said, she was still willing to try. The couple have Lindsey, now a junior at Auburn University, and Leah, a senior at .
“As we progressed through all the stages that she went through, going through all the challenges that we did, her attitude was amazing,” Pate said. “There was only one time she actually cried about her situation.
"She said, ‘I just want to watch my babies grow up – I want to see them graduate from high school and college, get married and have babies.’”
Even with her physical limitations, Pate said, “DeLaine was still a great mom. She was much more black and white than I am. She held the line on chores and was a great volunteer, especially with Lindsey and her gymnastics and Leah and her horses.”
She also got active in church. was the first church they joined. Even from her scooter, she helped make scarves for other people sick with cancer.
And, “after a neighbor had a car accident, DeLaine would drive her to physical therapy - Jamie in a wheelchair and DeLaine on a three wheeled scooter,” he recalled. “It was in her nature to help people. She was a truly good person.”
After her first daughter was born, DeLaine shifted gears from nursing work and became a stay-at-home mom. However, her ability to pull nursing facts out of her brain never diminished. She understood much more than the average person, Pate noted.
Eventually DeLaine had the use of only 22 percent of her lungs.
“She was basically running on one half of one lung,” Pate said. “Her resting heart rate was 120. She was burning calories by just sitting. Her body was working very hard to stay alive."
A Double Lung Transplant
Eventually, it was time for the double lung transplant. DeLaine was added to the transplant list, and the family got the call. The whole family showed up at the hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“When she first came out of surgery, she was doing fantastic and had a goal of returning home by Thanksgiving," Pate said. "She passed away eight weeks after the transplant on November 25, 2005, the day after Thanksgiving.
Her daughters were 11 and 14 at the time.
Today, Lindsey attends Auburn University where she is majoring in child life therapy. “She wants to deal with kids in the hospital who have to go through tough times, continuing the tradition that her mom set,” her proud dad said.
And Leah, who graduates this spring, is thinking about becoming a hospital dietitian. “DeLaine set the example,” Pate noted.
“We were married 22 years and together for 29 years. It was complete heartbreak for me and devastating to the girls. But the way I look at it, I try to get the most out of life to honor her.
"She always did that. I tell the girls – your mom would want you to have the fullest life possible. Take life with gusto. Do the things you want to do.”
Pate added, “The one beautiful thing is I think about her being whole and healthy in heaven. There’s a stained glass window at the church with three different scenes of Jesus and one of him welcoming you into heaven.
"I’ve always thought that the next time I see DeLaine, she’ll be looking over Jesus’ shoulder just waving at me.”