My Right Foot

Gordon McGuire's becoming a role model for the severely disfigured. But he's by no means any sweet-natured Elephant Man type.

A network of people he had been speaking to worldwide stopped returning his e-mails.

And he was increasingly alienating friends and family.

"He had become amazingly cruel and sometimes just crazy," his father says. "He just wasn't himself. Something was seriously wrong."

Gordon McGuire with his new foot and his new dog Doogan at McGuire's mother's house in Paradise Valley.
Irvin Serrano
Gordon McGuire with his new foot and his new dog Doogan at McGuire's mother's house in Paradise Valley.
Gordon McGuire at age 3.
Gordon McGuire at age 3.

One night, in late 2002, McGuire visited his father's house. They began arguing. Gordon, his father says, went "totally crazy."

"He was just screaming all kinds of hate and filth at me, and to be honest, I was scared," Darrell McGuire says. "He's extremely strong, he can hurt you in a second. And he was just totally out of his head that night."

Gordon ran from the house, tore off his shirt and began screaming at passing cars as he swung his shirt in the air. Darrell's new wife called 911. It took three police officers to wrestle Gordon into their cruiser.

"He just looked at me like, `Why are you doing this to me?'" Darrell says. "It just broke my heart. But in the end, that arrest and his time in jail probably was the best thing that could have happened."

Since returning to Arizona, McGuire had turned to multiple doses of prescription drugs to fight the pain in his body.

"But the narcotics didn't work like meth and pot," he says now. "The meth would actually alleviate the pain. The painkillers just sort of separated your head from the pain. And after a while, it just took more and more to try to find relief.

"And all that time, I'm just getting angrier and angrier and crazier and crazier," he says. "It was awful."

The dangerous mix of pharmaceutical drugs and pot seemed to be exacerbated by the addition of Ativan, which McGuire was given to help stop the spasms in his chest and to fight off his anxiety. It was after he began taking the Ativan that McGuire says he started having what essentially were psychotic episodes.

Both his father and mother obtained restraining orders against him.

McGuire spent 10 days in jail. After his release, he ended up at a casino, where owners called police on him again. He was out on Christmas Day, 2002, after 10 more days in the clink.

He went to a friend's house, where he borrowed money for bus fare out to his aunt's house in Texas. There, he received a call from the Ripley's producers. There was a doctor in Baltimore, they said, who might be able to perform surgery on his foot.

He took a bus to the East Coast and met the doctor. The physician said he couldn't do the surgery because he didn't accept McGuire's insurance. McGuire then took a bus back to Paradise Valley.

During the trip, he had run out of his medications. It was the best thing that could have happened.

"It was the first time I got the Ativan and the other stuff out of my system," he says. "I was in a lot of pain, but my head was clearing. I finally woke up and realized that, yeah, I had been going nuts. I had to get off the drugs. It was time to truly start over."

By the time McGuire's quest for shoes was filmed by Ripley's in August of last year, he was beginning to get his life back in order. And during that time, he finally found a local Valley surgeon who could perform the surgery and who would accept his insurance.

Dr. Stanley Graves performed the surgery on McGuire's foot at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea last September.

His mother invited him back home to recover.

His new physicians have changed his medication. He went on a much more effective mix of less toxic drugs.

By Christmas of last year, McGuire and his parents were beginning to see a new future for him.

"I just kept praying that God would turn it around, and He finally did," says his mother. "I'm just ecstatic. This person I love so much is here again."


McGuire sits in a lounge chair in the living room of his mother's house. A laptop computer is on a table beside him. His new foot rests on a stool.

He pokes at the bottom of the extremity. No pain. The tissue is still too spongy for long walks, but it is slowly firming up.

Doctors figure that in a year, the foot should function pretty normally.

He also has appointments in the next few months to meet with a geneticist and other specialists, with the goal of finally getting a definitive diagnosis of his condition. He still, for example, has no idea what those hundreds of white dots in his body are about.

But he has already begun walking again. His father helped pay off a DUI in California, so he is able to drive again.

He is attending church with his mother. He has developed considerably different ideas about Christianity than hers, but they agree to disagree.

In the last six months, McGuire has become increasingly active with several support groups around the country. He talks with dozens of people with similar diseases each week through Internet chat rooms. He receives moral support. He often offers advice.

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