The Miracle of Henri

This is a True Story.

2013-07-06_10-37-14_726I stood on the shore of Cloudy Lake in Wasilla, Alaska feeling the pressure of stress and worry fill me. I tried to appreciate the beauty of the swans, ducks and sunshine but the concern over how I was going to pay my bills weighed heavy on my mind.

I had invested a bunch of my money in a motorhome and realized, as much as I loved it, I could not afford to keep it. I was paying the bank on the loan, a storage facility to house it and maintenance fees to keep it in top shape.  I was struggling to keep my personal business, as well as the North America Outdoor Institute (NAOI,) the non-profit I founded and was running, alive. It was all just too much.

2013-10-27_12-31-19_589And then my cell phone rang. A number I didn’t recognize. :Hello, this is Debra,” I greeted.

“Hi, my name is Tom and I saw you had an ad on RV trader for your motorhome?”

I wondered if it could be possible. I knew better than to get excited because this could be just like all the other calls I’d had over the past two years of trying to sell. But this call was different. The man explained he had owned a motorhome like this and knew what I had. If I could prove it was in as good a shape as I proclaimed, he was willing to pay me what I wanted in cash. All I had to do was meet him in New Mexico within the next two weeks.

It was a tough decision but finally I felt in my heart it was possible that it was all for real and I needed to believe it. And so I did. I met Mr. Tom LaClair on a Saturday. He took one look and handed me a cashiers check for the full amount. I agreed to follow him home with the motorhome where my daughter agreed to pick me up.

We set off down the Interstate and when we arrived at his home in southern Arizona four hours later, I handed over the keys and drove away with my daughter convinced I would never see my beautiful little motorhome or Tom again. I was to discover just how wrong that proved to be….

2013 proved to be a pivotal, amazing year for me. After nine-years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication to NAOI, on January 2nd I received a phone call from the Arctic Slope Community Foundation with the good news that NAOI had been awarded a substantial grant. This single event changed everything in my world. It came at a most opportune time because I had just lost my father a few weeks earlier when he had a fatal stroke. I was feeling overwhelmed with sadness and the need to start down a new path.

I spent the next few months helping my youngest sister Diane sort through my parents belongings and remodel their house to prepare to sell it. Then we planned a celebration of life for Dad in order to share his beautiful works of art and the stories of his own adventurous life.


Artist and my Dad, Scott McDaniel

The Anchorage Loussac Library held a special showing of his work for the entire month of June that we kicked off May 30th with a reception at the library. Then on June 15th, the family gathered for a celebration of his life at Kincaid Park. This was followed on the 17th with a full honors military service at Ft. Rich and another special showing of his work at the Anchorage Museum. It was a busy, bustling time and good to have all of our family in one place.

During all the hustle and bustle of preparing for the memorial events, I received the greatest miracle of all. A wonderful, amazing, Fairy God Father called me with the most incredible gift. Yes Fairy GodFather. At least that’s what he is in my mind and heart.

I was once again standing by the lake, watching the swans when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I did the voice. It belonged to Tom LaClair, the kind gentleman who bought my motorhome ( I had fondly named Fin).  I moved forward with my life, grateful not to have the burden of expenses but sad in my heart and always missing my little traveling home. I thought of it often over the years but never expected I would hear from Mr. LaClair again. Until the day he surprised me with his call.

He began the conversation reminding me who he was and in my mind, I thought, ‘Oh no, he wants me to buy Fin back!’ While I would have loved to be able to do that, I knew I didn’t have the money and that it would be impossible. But then he surprised me by telling me that he didn’t want me to buy it, he wanted to ‘give‘ me the motorhome.

‘I have settled in Mesa, Arizona and will not be traveling any longer so I need to do something with the wonderful little motorhome,” Tom explained. “I was going to donate it to a non-profit, but I have maxed out my charitable contributions for the year and realized, any non profit I give this to will just sell it anyway. And then I thought of you. If you would like and can handle it, I  want to give it to you.

For a moment I stood frozen, looking out across the lake wondering if this was just a cruel joke; or a wildly impossible dream.  Because Mr. LaClair had been true to his word when he bought the motorhome, I wanted to believe him now. And amazing as it is, this proved to be not a joke or a dream, but the most amazing miracle.

On October 16, 2013, I met Tom for lunch and got to see the truth of the miracle. With my new license plates, registration and keys in hand, I truly have my motorhome back. Only now her name is Henri, in memory of Tom’s mother. Her story is truly inspiring and heartfelt and I feel honored and proud that she will be traveling with me.

Debra's Motorhome

Originally known as Fin (for my Huckleberry adventures) now named in memory of Tom LaClair’s mother ‘Henri’ – Flora Henrietta LaClair

After a wonderful lunch, Tom and I said goodbye with the promise that I would return the following week to pick up Henri and set out for my adventures. I’m excited about all the travels that wait for us and happy to share through this blog as we set out across the United States. I hope you will join us.

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Five weeks and healing

Debra McGhan

Salt River, AZ. Week three post op. Hiking and Happy!

The past four weeks have gone surprisingly fast. I’ve been taking it slow but gaining strength and energy every day. I started by walking about 10 steps to the door and back to the bed, and now walking a mile or so around the neighborhood. Today I returned to the doctor for my five week post op feeling great. The doctor is very pleased by my progress and declared me 75% recovered. Still have a couple internal stitches to go but everything looks good so that was happy news. But best of all, I’ve been cleared to ride my bicycle again.

I’ve been happy to get out and explore Arizona and walk to some beautiful places. The sun, earth and wind are healing my soul and feeding my spirit. I feel blessed and happy about my progress and how my body is feeling.

Now I just need to keep eating clean and be sure that I am doing enough to gain without doing too much that I go backwards. On to healing!

Debra and Michelle

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A Christmas challenge

I woke from surgery expecting to go home after just a short overnight stay in the hospital. Instead I found myself flat on my back, stapled closed from my groin to my chest, and riddled with tubes and needles coming out of me. What happened?

I was surprisingly not in a lot of pain, just very, very uncomfortable and in a state of complete confusion. It took a few hours before I could finally keep my eyes open  and actually start to focus. So much for local anesthesia. They moved me to a room and after getting me settled, checking all the tubes sucking stuff out, giving me oxygen, checking my blood pressure and pulse and providing hydration, my daughter appeared.

She was so encouraging and said the surgeon would be in to explain everything but apparently they had run into issues right after they started the surgery. The surgeon joined us at that point and explained that just 30 seconds into the procedure, they encountered a mass in my abdomen, the result of a previous surgery years earlier that resulted in peritonitis. And that had left behind a mass of scar tissue adhering my small intestines to the abdominal wall. When they tried to insert the camera to do the laparoscopic hysterectomy,  they perforated my small intestines.

They had to stop the original surgery and call in another surgeon who specialized  in bowel resection. Fortunately, because I had done a cleanse in preparation of the surgery, they were able to make the repair, and then complete the hysterectomy. Instead of one procedure, I’d gone through two surgeries.

Instead of a one night stay, I was in the hospital for five days.

Today it has been two weeks and I’m slowly regaining my strength and my energy. I’m back to eating solid food and pleased that my plumbing all seems to be working again. What a trial.

The really great news, through all of this I have had no hip pain. I never needed to use narcotic pain relievers and I’m convinced, that has contributed to my fast rebound despite the seriousness of the surgery.

Now I am ready to get back on my path to health. I get the staples removed tomorrow and look forward to slowly but steadily regaining. One step, one block, one day at a time. Here is to a long, healthy future!


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Preparing for a new journey

Debra working Bruce LakeThis summer I didn’t write much because I was so busy working on my property and building toward my future. My hips and legs have continually improved so I found my life back on track without being plagued with chronic pain. It’s been wonderful and absolutely amazing. So I was able to get out and work hard clearing brush, hauling water, burning, painting, planting…

And during this process I got tossed another curve ball. I discovered that as you age, things give out. The tissue gets old and fragile and no matter how much you want to believe you can still do stuff, your body may not agree.

Ultimately I had a prolapse of an organ. It’s like a hernia and requires surgical repair. So I found myself in Arizona preparing for surgery. I am not replacing a joint but I am having unneeded parts removed.

Now that I’m here, I’m okay. I’m emotionally accepting and prepared and just looking forward to having this behind me so I can once again get back to life. I have lots of big plans and don’t want this obstacle to block my path.

To prepare, I have been eating light, cleaning out my body and centering my Qi through my QiGong workouts. It’s definitely calming and helping me stay focused and ready to take on this task.

I’m hoping to get this done with a local anesthesia rather than a general because my one source of anxiety is not being able to wake up or trapped in hazy fog. So we’ll see how it goes. Two days to count down.

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Winter 2017


This has been a winter of big adventures. I traveled from Arizona to California with my spirit sister, Merletta, to have medical treatments on my hips (Stem Cell Journey,) enjoyed time in California with friends and then explored Arizona with Merletta.

Fin has been an awesome source of joy and pleasure this year. I’ve had a few challenges 20170214_132835(had to pay to fix the driver’s window when I tried to put it down and the mechanism snapped and the window was stuck about 1/3rd of the way down.) $280 later it’s sliding up and down happily!

I so love my beautiful little home on wheels. Fun adventures.

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Steps forward

October 18, 2015

I don’t think the second stem cell treatment is working. The first treatment, where they harvested the stem cells from my body and then planted those, did make a huge difference. In fact, most days I almost feel like my left hip is healed, but because it’s still trying to heal and the right hip has been failing, it’s taking on so much extra load that many days it just hurts and feels overworked. The joint is tight and achy. UGH! I want to be over this and back on my feet. Thinking about life and moving, not about all the pain.

I’ve decided to go back to Algone and see Dr. Peterson again for a follow-up treatment of platelet therapy. Guess I’ll see how this goes.

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Surprise Detour

For the last two months life has taken a crazy turn. In mid August my daughter called in tears. Her husband Michael was sick and getting worse. He’d not felt well for months but this was reaching the point where she was watching him die and it terrified her. She’d been so strong and optimistic up to this point but suddenly it was more than she could bear. I recommended she take a deep breath and get really assertive with the doctors. “You need to make them understand how serous this is. Or take him to the emergency room where they will do something for him.”

Two days later she called to say they were in the hospital and a team of doctors had given them a diagnosis. “Michael, we know what’s wrong,” one of the doctor’s on the team rushed in his room to tell him. “You have endocarditis plus a 6 cm aneurysm in your aorta. A bacteria has invaded your heart and attacked the aortic valve 20150916_074128which turned out to have a birth defect. You need heart surgery. We have to replace the aortic valve, arch and other main parts to your heart to repair the damage caused by this bacteria. The problem is we don’t know exactly what the bacteria is. It looks like staph but acts like strep. We are going to start you on the most potent antibiotic known to man and run cultures to try and figure this out. Until we know more, you will need to just stay in the hospital because one sneeze at this point and you could die.

Michelle told me the hospital is 45 minutes from the house, they have 20 chickens, a dog, a cat and a bunch of creepy crawling things there were raising for the chickens. She was having to drive back and forth twice a day and the stress was wiping her out. She had a friend that was helping as much as possible but the entire experience was taking a terrible toll on her.

I knew what I had to do. I put everything in my life on hold, harvested everything I could from my garden and caught a midnight flight flew to Arizona to help my daughter out. It had been two weeks since I’d had my stem cell treatment and I was still struggling. Things did feel like they were improving a little but I was still suffering from a sharp, aching pain at night. I would often wake up with my leg locked in place and have to fight through excruciating pain to get it moving again. But I was able to move well enough I knew I could make this trip.

Once in Phoenix, I rented a car and went straight to the hospital to see the kids. I arrived as one of the infectious disease doctors was telling them more of the details of what they were up against with this surgery. It all sounded terrifying and dangerous but we had to have faith. He was in good hands and stood a good chance of surviving because of his age and otherwise good health. He was a big, strong boy before this bug took him down. The doctor was confident they could help him and ensure he had a long healthy life ahead of him. All I could do was pray they were right.
20150827_172812A few hours later, My daughter led me back to their new house they had just bought and moved into before Michael collapsed. She opened the door and there were unpacked boxes everywhere. She quickly gave me a tour, showed me my room and then oriented me to the dog, cat and chicken feeding instructions. Then she introduced me to the meal worms, crickets and baby chickens she was incubating in a back room. I wrote a few cryptic notes while she took a
shower, packed up some things she needed at the hospital and got ready to go back to the hospital. At least now she knew I would take care of things at home and that was one big worry off her mind.

20150905_175545After she was gone I collapsed in bed and slept for several hours. Over the next week I spent my time unpacking and organizing the house into a home. I took the dog for walks every day, which helped keep my legs moving and healing, got to know the chickens and enjoyed the time being able to help the kids and rest myself.

Finally the day came when the doctors felt confident they had the bacteria under control and were prepared to go forward with the surgery. It was an anxious day and Michelle, her friend Jenny and I kept our minds occupied watching Hero’s Six and sending positive vibes out to the universe.  At last the nurse came out to tell us everything was going well. They had 20150902_143707not had to freeze Michael to protect his brain as they had originally thought,  but rather used his femoral artery as a bypass so the surgery was going to be a lot shorter than the eight hours they had prepared us for.

An hour later the cardiologist who preformed the operation came out and told us Michael was doing well and was now in recovery. The surgery had gone well and he was going to be fine. He was just going to have an audible tick and have to take a blood thinner the rest of his life. No problem. Things we all agreed could be happily lived with.

It was another 10 days before Michael finally got to come home. And that didn’t last long because his heart went into afib and he had to go back for another five days before they got him back in sync and stable enough to try going home again.

I’m super happy to report that I was able to spend 2 weeks with my son’s family in Tennessee and when I got back to Phoenix, Michael was showing signs of health again and doing well. He continues to heal and we are all so grateful he survived and has the opportunity for a happy, healthy, productive, amazing…future. We have much to be thankful for.

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New Challenges

It’s been much too long since I have posted. Life has been busy with grant writing, training and gardening. But all of those things are just excuses. I could have still squeezed in a little time to write. But to write about what? How much pain I have been suffering lately.

Despite my initial progress, lately both of my hips have been tight and sore and so painful I finally went to seek help from my doctors. My chiropractor, my massage therapist, my family doctor and finally an Internist. I asked the internist if I should see a rheumatologist but after some blood tests, the doctor said I have just worn my joints out.

My left hip from the stem cell is definitely better but is being over worked and stressed because of my failing right hip. It’s frustrating and frightening.

Lately it’s been like walking on fragile glass and I fear I’ll have to make a major decision as to what to do if I want to be walking in 20 years. I try taking a day off but it doesn’t help. In fact in many ways I hurt more. At least when I get up and try, I get to going and have some time that is relatively pain free. I finally broke down and decided to take the medicine the doctor prescribed in hopes it would break this cycle of inflation. Celebrex has so many horrifying side effects I was terrified. But also feeling desperate. After three days I felt better but by the 5th day the pain all came back. After 10 days the pills were gone and the pain was worse than ever.

I’m still doing Yoga as much as I can push through it. I went for another massage on Thursday and took Friday off. I took two advil despite knowing how bad they are but I was finally able to get some sleep and feel a bit better today. I’m going to try a bike ride today and try to not do too much.

My ray of hope is that I just discovered there is a pain clinic in Wasilla doing the stem cell treatment like I had on my left leg. I’m praying I can get a booster on the left and have the right hip treated. If I can do that right here in Wasilla, I may be able to finally get past this challenging time.


20150617_210638I  think my big salvation is my garden. It’s keeping me moving and I have lots of fresh greens that all I have to do is go outside to the greenhouse or garden to pick.

I know I will get past this. I just have to push forward and know that this too will pass.

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PhoenixI made it back to Phoenix for New Years.

Now it’s time to focus on conditioning so I can get back on the ski slopes.

My first workout included light jumping rope, pushups, situps, prone mountain climbers, handstands and kettle bell swings to get the blood pumping and my body warmed up. That was yesterday. Today I definitely feel sore and like I had a good workout but find my hips need some soft tissue massage to work out the lactic acid.

I realize that handstands are one of the hardest things I’m doing and today I’ll skip that and just focus on Yoga and stretching.

I also plan to try hiking and more conditioning but experience has taught me I also need to take it a bit easy and slowly work up to my old routine, not just jump in with both feet and over zealous enthusiasm. My goal is to be skiing next weekend so I want to keep at it but not over do it either. With just one week left to prepare I better get going.

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Recovering in Santa Maria


Debra and Merletta


Pismo Beach, CA


Farewell to 2014

SantaMaria4 SantaMaria5 The year will soon be over. It’s been a very good year for me. For the past two weeks I enjoyed a visit with my friend Merletta while I recovered from the hip injection on my right hip.

I’m pleased to report that my legs are doing much better and I am enjoying the ability to get around easily and hike for more than three miles a day. I’m planning to ski in January so this was a great chance to work on getting my legs in shape.

I kept a diary of my walks and realized each time I walked I was able to venture further with less pain. I could not be happier about the outcome on my hips.

If you’d like to learn more about the treatments I had done, you can contact me with your questions. I’m also working on another blog that will detail only my journey of alternative medical care and the procedures I’ve had done. I’ll post a link once that is ready to share.

I have learned that I have the most problem when I sit for more than a few minutes at a time so I need to get this post up and then get my body up and moving again. Thanks for coming with me on this journey!


Hiking on the trails around Orcutt, Ca.

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California – Health follow up

On Friday, December 12th I headed for the warm beaches of southern California for my one-year follow up and the possibility of  a treatment for my right hip that has been bugging me a lot.

I had the pleasure of spending the night with my ‘cousin’ Mary and enjoying an awesome IMG_2321visit reminiscing about growing up together in Anchorage. Mary was heading for Florida to celebrate Christmas and the New Year so we got up early on Saturday and set out for a tour of the LA harbor and her non-profit – Harbor Community Foundation, in Fin-Henri and then on to the airport where we said our goodbye’s.

After leaving Mary, I headed south and made a stop in Orange County to visit another friend, Donna. We spent a fun day visiting Downtown Disney and checking out the sites in her community of Buena Park. I feel so blessed to have such amazing friends who open their hearts and driveways for Fin/Henri and I.


On Sunday afternoon I headed for Oceanside, CA where I was scheduled to meet with my doctor on Monday for my follow-up and MRI. I arrived to see an amazing sunset and got the chance to walk on the beach and relax. What an awesome, amazing adventure I’ve had this winter with Fin/Henri.

20141214_164711 20141214_165139 20141215_102836

On Monday I got an MRI on both hips and visited with my doctor. He was very pleased with my progress and recommended a Platelet Rich Therapy (where they draw your whole blood and then spin it to separate the red blood cells out and then use the platelets to help heal joints by injection) for my right hip which has been bothering me. The MRI showed marked improvement in my left hip  but a tear in my right labrum and degeneration. I had the injection on Tuesday and then headed off to Santa Maria to enjoy Christmas with my girlfriend Merletta. Stay tuned for more adventures…

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