Debra Sears has the training, credentials and clinical skills of a speech pathologist, but her greatest satisfaction comes when she sees the beaming smile of a mother.
“I’ve had Moms come in and say, `Finally, my baby said Mama!”’
With her own smile, after 40 years of working at Brownsville’s Moody Clinic, Sears said, “That’s huge.”
The Oklahoma native who came to Brownsville in 1976 and found her life’s calling at a children’s clinic is now seeing her way through a transition. After three plus decades as Moody’s executive director, Sears is heading into semi-retirement, turning over leadership to a protégé at a clinic that touches the lives of children through physical, speech and occupational therapy.
She (Sears) has helped thousands and thousands of children,” Jessica Cuevas, the incoming executive director, said of her mentor. “She is an icon in this community. When you think of the Moody Clinic, you think of Debbie.”
Sears has not been with the Moody Clinic since its start in 1952, but she is its most enduring figure. She is leaving her executive director post in February, and will continue in a part-time role as a speech pathologist. It will be the continuation of her life’s work in helping young children with conditions such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and speech and language delays.
The 65-year-old clinic, which has treated more than 7,000 children during its existence, is a non-profit facility which operates with funding from the United Way, grants and foundations, along with some payments from the parents of the children via private insurance and Medicaid. The clinic does not turn any patients away, and routinely provides more therapy than recommended or provided by insurance companies or government programs.
“We do what’s best for the patient,” Sears said. ``We don’t let insurance companies or Medicaid dictate what we need to do.”
Sears and her staff do their work with compassion and a tender understanding, knowing how crushing it is for parents to hear confirmation that their child has a significant disability.
“I’ve had Moms sit in their cars in our parking lot, crying and getting the courage to come inside because they know they’re expecting bad news,” she said.
From that bad news come hope, lots of therapy, and a renewal of spirit in children and parents that better and fuller lives are up ahead. After all of these years at Moody, Sears still feels the joy of making such a profound difference in the lives of children and parents who come to her clinic, calling them family, and said, ``I wish everyone could find their niche in life like I have here.”
She praises her adopted hometown, saying that despite its image of being a lower socioeconomic community, it has always been there for the Moody Clinic.
‘Brownsville has said these kids are important to us,” she said. “I love living in a community with that kind of heart.”
By Ricardo Cavazos