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Rare double-lung transplant survivor Commissioner Dennis Deer dead at 51

Funeral arrangements pending

Just ten months after announcing he was “blessed by God” to survive a rare double-lung transplant, Cook County Comm. Dennis Deer died Sunday, June 232024, at the Northwestern Hospital at the age of 51. Some of his family surrounded him at his bedside.

On August 7, 2023, Deer told the Chicago Crusader he was “blessed by God” to have survived the double-lung transplant at the Northwestern Hospital vowing to become an “ambassador for organ donations.” He had just turned 51 when he vowed to work with the Secretary of State and his organ/tissue donor registry program.

Today, just 45 days before his 52nd birthday, his family issued a statement Sunday saying, “It is with a tremendous amount of sorrow that we announce today’s passing of our Champion Dr. Dennis Deer…. Dr. Deer’s passionate lifelong dedication made him a tireless servant to the community in areas of healthcare, education, economic development, employment and training, re-entry and affordable housing.”

The statement said Deer’s “greatest joy and pride were his family. He cherished his role as husband to his high school sweetheart, Barbara Deer. He was the father of twin sons, Kaleb and Kanaan and a daughter, Trinity.

In an interview with the Chicago Crusader last August, Deer said he was born with “flipped organs.” He was born with “situs inversus,” referring to his heart being more to the right and his organs switching over to accommodate the malady. He had told the Chicago Crusader he found out about his condition at the age of four.

Saying he was a “fierce champion of equity in every space he entered,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a statement saying, “He was (also) a psychological clinician by training.

“His expertise, guidance and commanding voice made us all better and were critical in his role as Vice Chair of the Cook County Health Board of Directors. Dennis brought his intellect, wisdom, passion, advocacy and faith everywhere he went,” Preckwinkle stated.

Saying Deer’s death is a “devastating loss for our city and county,” Mayor Brandon Johnson issued a statement to the media saying, “Dennis was a beacon of hope and compassion who fulfilled a mission of improving healthcare, education and economic opportunities for every resident he served. A tireless advocate for the underserved and underrepresented, he was a champion for people, with an unwavering commitment and genuine love for a district that spanned the Loop, Englewood and the West Side of Chicago.”

Johnson extended his condolences to Deer’s family and the Cook County Board members and his constituents.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who is also president of the Westside Black Elected Officials and the newly elected State Central Committeewoman for the Seventh Congressional District, told the Chicago Crusader, “My heart goes out to the family, the residents and all of Chicago and Cook County. Commissioner Deer was a strong advocate for health care in the Second Congressional District.

“Since the time Deer became commissioner, he has worked with the Westside Black Elected Officials. He has been very instrumental in planning our events. It wasn’t just about his district.

“He was about bringing people together and even helped with the flooding issue. He was a hands-on, people person and a great servant,” Mitts said. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost a great elected official, a great human being, a father and a friend,” she said.

Expressing “deep appreciation” of the outpouring of love and concern after the death of Deer, his family is asking for privacy including calls or visits as they plan Comm. Deer’s homegoing services.

Comm. Bill Lowry (3rd) told the Chicago Crusader, “He was like a brother. We worked very closely together. He was also one of our leaders on our board.” Lowry confirmed that Deer recently became ill and that he was passionate about equity in health care.

“Dennis chaired the Health and Hospitals Committee. He was very dedicated to health care including behavioral health care for not only the residents of his district but all of Cook County,” said Lowry.

“We partnered on a lot of different initiatives. I supported a number of his resolutions including his Gun Violence is a Public Health Crisis and his Food is Medicine resolution.

When Commissioner Lowry was told of Deer’s transitioning, he rushed to Northwestern Hospital but was too late to say a face-to-face goodbye. Commissioner Deer had died. “He appeared extremely peaceful, and he had a smile on his face.”

“There is a level of shock. It’s cloaked in sadness, but as the funeral arrangements are being made, I will continue his service in addition to mine. I am very blessed to have known him,” Lowry’s voice cracking.

“Through his leadership, the County resourced a lot of different efforts where the ultimate goal was to bring about health care in the areas of Cook County where we’ve seen disinvestment over the years specifically in our Black Communities,” Lowry said. “That is something both of us worked very closely together to bring about.”

In response to Deer’s sudden death, Cook County Comm. Stanley Moore (4th) said, “I’m numb. Dennis and I did a lot of things together. The last time I saw him I visited him at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and he told me he was getting better.”

In describing Deer as a seatmate, Commissioner Moore said, “Dennis was a classic professional always on top of the issues, very articulate and he always did his homework. He never guessed at things.”

Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin who once worked with Deer told the Chicago Crusader, “Commissioner Dennis Deer was a bright, shining light. He came to the board after the death of Comm. Robert Steele,” who was the son of former Cook County Board President Bobbi Steele.

“I had the privilege of serving with him” Boykin said of Deer. “He was a wealth of information in terms of mental health, re-entry and just a sense of right, wrong and fairness. He was a champion of healthcare having Cook County Health and Hospital system in his district.

“He was just a decent, human being whose every thought had a positive thing to say. He had a good sense of humor. He always brought a sense of levity to the room to lighten the conversation and ease any tension that might have existed.

“He was thoughtful and deliberate and will be missed by the residents of the Second District, missed by his family and all of us who considered him a friend,” said Boykin.

Ultimately, the ward committeemen in Deer’s district will come together and select Deer’s replacement.

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