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Grace McGuire to Fly for Lyme Disease!!

Posted: Thu 1 Nov 2007 21:34
by CaliforniaLyme
I've had the pleasure of speaking with Grace M on the phone as she is still planning her
flight with Muriel and is also probably moving to California in 2007 or 2008*)!*! She is
super nice. Here is her story from the old Lyme Alliance page-
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This Is My Quest - To Follow That Star

Written by Jane Lee Andersen, journalist and friend of Grace McGuire

True grit describes Grace McGuire. Lyme disease has taken her health, time, money, energy and career as a commercial pilot and flight instructor, but it has not conquered her spirit or steely determination.

Back in the early 1970's, she was a starry-eyed young student taking flying lessons and in love with flying. Determined to become the finest possible pilot, she enrolled in aviation school to learn commercial flying. She applied herself to the study of navigation and many other necessary skills and eventually accumulated enough flying hours to earn not only a commercial license, but multi-engine land and sea, instrument and instructor ratings as well as helicopter time. She even spent time flying an F-15 jet, which was fun, but Grace was in love with vintage aircraft and had no desire to fly sophisticated airplanes. "I'm a frustrated barnstormer," she said.

Grace first become known to the public in 1979, when she was spotted as an Amelia Earhart look-alike. Inspired by the Earhart story, the dream of completing Amelia's aborted flight was born. In her map case, she carried the plan of the route for the most ambitious flight in aviation history - the duplication of Amelia's flight. She plans to do it in authentic 1937 style - "the old-fashioned way, she calls it. Circumnavigating the globe will take three-and-a-half months, with 32 stops along the way.

Several commemorative Earhart flights have been made, but there has never been an exact duplication using the same type aircraft, equipment and crew. Grace's first step was to find a 1935 Lockheed Electra L-l0E identical with the model flown by Amelia - no easy job, as only 15 were built. After a two-year search, a tip from Christie's Auction House sent her to the parking lot of the Wings and Wheels Museum in Orlando, Florida. "The old Electra was the sorriest thing I had ever seen, she said. "It was badly corroded and needed major work. I didn't know at the time that I had bought the only original Electra L-l0E in the world." She named her Electra "Muriel" after Amelia's sister, who became a project supporter and close personal friend.

When news of the project filtered out, Grace was deluged with calls from the news media. Time Magazine, US Magazine, Revista Aerea Magazine (an aviation magazine published in nine countries), Australia's Woman's Day and numerous other national and international magazines ran stories. An interview on "Good Morning America" so impressed the president of an international company, he ordered his PR people to find her.

A few days later, Grace and her best friend Rosemary were picked up in a limousine and whisked off by helicopter. "We had no idea where we were going and we wondered if we were being kidnapped," she said. They landed at company headquarters, and officials made an offer to sponsor the project.

About this time, fate struck a series of blows that would have floored a lesser character. The company had a change in management, the project was canceled, and the Electra was returned. An inexperienced mechanic hired by the sponsor to head the restoration had made a shambles of poor "Muriel". Nothing was labeled, and half of the precious parts that had taken so long to accumulate were missing. "It was a nightmare of a mess," she said. "Never again. I'm doing it my way from now on," Grace had to learn to be an aircraft mechanic so she could be assured everything was being done properly.

It was now the mid-l980's, and Grace had become very ill. Like many victims of Lyme disease, she was diagnosed with, and treated for, everything EXCEPT Lyme disease. "One doctor thought I had multiple sclerosis and I knew I was finished," she said. "None of the doctors back then knew there was such a thing as Lyme disease-induced multiple sclerosis."

Offers of sponsorship and publicity kept pouring in, but Grace had become too ill to cope. Finding a suitable hangar and adequate working conditions for "Muriel's" surgery was another problem. This involved several moves and formidable expense. Eventually, owing to the intervention of political friends in Washington and the help of the late Congressman James Howard (D - N.J.), one of Grace's biggest supporters, she was able to obtain hangar space.

Meanwhile, Grace had become so ill she was hospitalized. Incompetent doctors had no clue as to what her problem really was. She suffered bouts of blindness, meningitis, encephalitis, paralysis, muscle spasms, crushing head pain, a heart murmur, and profound fatigue and weakness. The diagnosis was probable multiple sclerosis AND Lyme disease.

After trial and error, Grace was fortunate enough to find a Lyme-literate doctor who has taken wonderful care of her. She took high doses of intravenous antibiotics for six-and-a-half years, which helped somewhat, but the continuous drip method is the thing that turned the disease around A battery-operated pump that pumped antibiotics into her heart 24 hours a day for nearly a year forced the Lyme into remission. She did fairly well for several years, but last year fate struck again. A bad case of poison ivy on both legs developed into severe cellulitis, which had to be treated with steroids. All her previous problems were aggravated.

She thought the worst part of the disease was over several years ago, but now she has muscle atrophy which began in her face and left hand. Now the right hand and both arms and legs are afflicted. She spends every moment she can spare from the hangar reading the latest Lyme bulletins and helping Lyme patients to find Lyme-literate doctors.

The years have been full - too full - of upset and sadness for Grace. During some of her worst moments in the hospital, she wondered if she would ever fly again. Only the thought of losing "Muriel" kept her fighting.

There have been a few good times as well. She has met friends and supporters and volunteer mechanics whose expertise has helped with the Electra's reconstruction. "The battle against Lyme disease has brought me a renewed appreciation of life, a stronger will to succeed, and injected a bit of humility in my personality," she says.

She works long hours in cold, drafty hangars. The Electra was previously owned by Pan American Airways in 1935, and she now has a crew of volunteer Pan-Am retirees. The project is well under way. "We just put the original PAA logo on the tail," she says jubilantly. She needs a sponsor for the remainder of the project, and is looking for a Pan American Airways celestial/navigator copilot. Several major networks have offered to cover the flight when Grace finds a sponsor.

Grace is upbeat about it all. "I hope 'Muriel' will eventually carry me as far as I've carried it," she says. She plans to use the flight to publicize the plight of Lyme disease victims and the need to educate doctors in the treatment of tick-borne diseases. If all goes well, "Muriel" will carry a message of hope and courage to "Lymies" everywhere around the globe.

We'd like to thank Jane Lee Andersen for writing Grace's story. Our gratitude also goes out to Grace McGuire for inspiring us with her courage and perseverance, and for determination to take our message to the skys. .