Debbie Hanson looks on the sunny side of life

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Debbie Hanson creates gardens for her neighbors in the Woodland Heights senior living facility in Peterborough. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Debbie Hanson Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Debbie Hanson Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/28/2019 10:29:23 AM

If you were to take a walk through the dozens of small gardens behind the Woodland Heights senior living facility in Peterborough, Debbie Hanson could tell you who each one belongs to.

That’s because she planted them all herself.

As of two years ago, 61-year-old Hanson has been driving to Keene for dialysis every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday because of a deteriorating kidney. Having been born with a rare liver and lung disease called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, she is no stranger to life-threatening medical problems.

“I lost my dad when he was 52 from lung disease. I lost my mom at 64 from liver disease,” she said. “I have both.”

On Hanson’s arm, you can often see a strip of gauze taped against her vein from the dialysis. On her chest, a small port pumps a necessary enzyme into her body. On her face, you will almost always see a smile.

With the help of her dog Deedee, Hanson has been planting small gardens on the banking behind Woodland Heights, in view of the residents’ windows, for the past six years. Each one is personalized with requested colors and types of flowers based on the preferences of her fellow residents.

“Maintenance used to throw away their clippings. I decided to take them and plant some of them. That’s how it all started,” Hanson said. “They love it, and I love to see the smiles on their faces.”

When Hanson arrived at Woodland Heights 13 years ago, her place in the small community felt uncertain. Once her gardening took off, she began to blossom.

“When I first got here I felt like I didn’t belong,” she said. “Now, I can’t imagine ever leaving.”

The first step in her gardening endeavors was clearing out the banking with her brother.

What was once a small hill covered in brush and trees became the foundation for Hanson’s floral vision. When it was ready for planting, the residents would buy the materials, give her their personal requests, and then she would get to work. “They buy it, I plant it,” Hanson said.

While she does face problems along the way, such as an enlarged lung impeding her breathing, she continues on at her own pace. For Hanson, giving up is never an option.

“I was on oxygen for ten years. Some people with medical issues just stay in a rut. I always pick myself up, brush myself off and move forward,” she said.

In January, Hanson posted her story on Facebook in the hope of finding kidney donors.

“I had a left lung transplant 14 years ago,” she said in the post. “Now, due to the fact that I have to take anti-rejection medicines to keep my new lung working, my kidneys have become damaged.”

The post also highlights Hanson’s personal life, such as her volunteer work at Monadnock Community Hospital, her devout membership at the Union Congregational Church and her love for family.

Five months later, 10 live kidney donors are on hold until Hanson undergoes a surgical procedure for her enlarged lung.

While a future of medical challenges inevitably awaits her, Hanson is always looking for new ways to grow. Currently, she is constructing a series of paths throughout her gardens to give the residents more accessibility. By next year, she hopes to complete a community vegetable garden on the top level of the banking.

When given every reason to be angry at the world, Hanson continues to make it a more colorful place. For anyone who feels they are stuck in a rut, she has one simple message: “Don’t ever give up.”


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