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Military BRAT Deidre Hardin: The Unstoppable Tin Woman

Deidre Hardin’s journey mirrors the incredible jewelry she creates: intricate and layered spirals and turns decorated with spots of beauty together form something simply amazing.

Hardin’s journey began in Lubbock, Texas, where she lived until age 5. As a military brat, Hardin regularly moved, which allowed her to experience life in a multitude of different places. When she was 11, Hardin’s father was stationed in Germany about two hours from the French border. Hardin spent much of her four years there exploring Europe.

Laughing, Hardin recounted one of her fondest memories from that time: spending her 16th birthday in Spain.

“I got to drink like a grown up,” she said.

Hardin joyfully shared similar memories from visits to Holland, France and Italy.

“I was always so excited to go to my next adventure,” she said.

As an adult, Hardin benefitted from her TCK background. After graduating from Colorado State University, Hardin moved to Dallas where she officially met and fell in love with her husband, Keith. After some time in Texas, the couple moved to Denver, and Hardin began teaching art.

Her experience with different cultures helped her as both a teacher and a mother. Through art and her own experiences, she was able to show her children and students “that the world is bigger and there are different ways of looking at things.”

“As many people as there are in the world, that’s how many ways there are to solve a problem,” Hardin said.

She encouraged her kids to think just as big and just as creatively.

In 2002, Hardin was awarded the Art Educator of the Year Award by the Colorado Art Education Association.

However, 2002 threw as many trials as it did triumphs into Hardin’s life. She began to experience severe joint pain, lapses in memory and extreme fatigue. She struggled to find enough energy to make it through the day.

“I would take 20-minute naps in my car before I came home,” Hardin said.

Hardin was eventually diagnosed with lupus.

She spent the summer of 2002 in the hospital. Doctors worked to alleviate Hardin’s symptoms and prescribed chemotherapy to help bring her white blood cell count back to healthy levels.

Hardin remembers crying holding locks of her hair in her hands.

“Ma. It’s dead, ma,” her hairdresser told her when she asked for them to be sewn back in.

Despite strong opposition from doctors, family and friends, Hardin returned to work part-time that August. Hardin was more worried that her students might think she was a junkie due to the marks left by IVs than she was about overworking.

However, in 2004, her health began to deteriorate again, and then she bore witness to a life-changing surprise.

In disbelief, Hardin heard her doctor telling her that she was pregnant.

Hardin had been told that she would not be able to have any more children. Early in her marriage, Hardin experienced an ectopic pregnancy, which caused her to lose one of her ovaries. With the added impact of chemotherapy and the medication she was taking, the chances of her bearing more children were nearly nonexistent. She had not had a cycle in over a year and believed she had gone through menopause early. Yet, there she was carrying her own tiny miracle.

Carrying a child to term with lupus is dangerous. Doctors verbalized a high probability that either she or her baby might not make it through delivery. Hardin remained steadfast.

“If this happens in a barren womb, then there’s no way that I’m going to go have this taken care of,” she said, on her refusal to consider abortion.

Nine months later, Hardin gave birth to a healthy, happy baby girl. She named her Niara, which means God’s Purpose.

Hardin continued to feel fatigue for months after the birth. She eventually returned to her doctor and learned that her heart was enlarged. After experimenting with other treatment methods with little success, her doctors decided that she needed a pacemaker.

Around this time, Hardin wanted to move to a warmer climate. She underwent pacemaker surgery in August 2009 and moved back to Texas with her family in November.

Much time was spent in and out of doctors’ offices to make sure that her pacemaker worked adequately. At her last appointment, the doctor was ready to give her a clean bill of health if she was sleeping normally. Hardin said that, though she needed to sit upright while in bed, she otherwise was sleeping well.

Her doctor immediately began making calls.

Hardin had congestive heart failure; she needed a new heart.

“I did not cry until I got to the house,” she said.

Hardin was added to the transplant list and began waiting. She was placed on oxygen and a constant IV. While waiting, Hardin turned to art to help her get through each day. “Art therapy has been my saving grace,” she said.

Early in her battle with lupus, a friend gave Hardin a copper bracelet and told her that copper helps ease joint pain. So, Hardin decided to create her own copper jewelry. From this, molding copper became very therapeutic for Hardin.

“I got to hammer out my frustrations before my family got home,” she said.

The finished pieces gave Hardin something to show for the time spent at home and something to talk about besides her health.

A TCK Love Story

Deidre and Keith managed to just miss each other throughout their childhoods.

Deidre’s closest friend growing up was Keith’s cousin, Vonda. They spent so much time together that they often told people that they were cousins as well. Their families were just as close. Deidre’s mother and Keith’s aunt were best friends.

Deidre knew of Keith and spent time with much of his family from a young age. When Vonda showed Deidre a picture of Keith in an attempt to play matchmaker, Deidre remarked, “He looks like Michael Jackson with the fly collar!”

However, before they could meet, Deidre moved to Germany.

After graduating college, Deidre moved to Dallas with Vonda. Once there, Vonda subtly mentioned that Keith lived in Austin and began orchestrating a surprise meeting.

When they finally met, Deidre froze momentarily.

“I knew him immediately,” she said.

“Are you gonna just stand there or come give me a hug?” Keith asked.

They immediately hit it off. However, Keith was going through a divorce. Until it was final, Deidre felt uncomfortable being anything more than friends.

On her next birthday, Keith called and told her that his divorce had been finalized. Six months later, the couple finally began dating.

Keith has been integral to Deidre’s journey.

“He’s the rock of the family,” she shared. “He keeps everybody laughing.”

While Deidre was waiting for a heart, Keith took her on short staycations throughout Texas. Deidre fondly remembers sitting in the bluebonnet capital of Texas.

“My husband isn’t an artsy person, but he’s learned to stop and smell the roses,” she said.

Deidre and Keith will be renewing their vows to celebrate their 25th anniversary in May 2017.

One evening, Hardin walked into the kitchen to get a cup of tea and heard “The Wiz” playing in the living room. Nipsey Russel, playing the Tinman, warbled:

Slide some oil to me

Let it trickle down my spine

Slide some oil to my head

And let me lubricate my mind!

As Russel sang, Hardin was struck by how much she identified with his character. Then the Tinman mentioned his desperation for a heart.

“I’m the Tin Woman in this story,” Hardin realized. “I always wanted to be Dorothy with the red shoes.”

As Hardin continued to wait for a compatible heart, this idea of the Tin Woman became somewhat of a mascot for her and served as a source of inspiration. When her daughter accidentally broke a dress form, Hardin saw an opportunity to create a new sculpture. Using the form, a piece of red coral that remarkably resembled a four-chamber heart, and, of course, copper, Hardin built her Tin Woman.

Deidre Hardin's Tin Woman

The Tin Woman

Finally, in 2013, Hardin received a new heart.

Hardin’s surgery and recovery went smoothly. Her fatigue lessened and she could do more day to day, including launching her own jewelry line, Copper Signatures.

When she was healthy enough to interact with larger groups of people again, Hardin displayed her jewelry at a local fashion show, which then led to an appearance on Good Morning Texas. This event exploded into a large social media following and invitations to other fashion shows. Since then, Hardin has been able to share her story with a vast audience.

“Dallas kind of knows me as the copper lady,” she said.

Hardin strives to honor her donor, Casey, by shining bright enough for two.

There are “two souls, one heart on this journey,” she said. Each year, she designs a piece titled Casey’s Wing, which she donates to charity.

The Tin Woman sculpture still hangs in her home.

“I’ve gained so much more peace,” Hardin reflected. “Even chaos can be beautiful.”

By: Joanna Pierce

Joanna Pierce is a journalism student at Colorado State University. She is a National Nomad who grew up in six different states throughout the US. Joanna is passionate about the arts and their ability to create community. She loves to travel, read, and watch Spongebob.