What happens when the worst happens – a life-threatening medical emergency on the road? This week in Episode 372 of the RV Podcast, we meet a couple who experienced just that.
Our guests are Larry and Mary Allen who call themselves the Second Chance Vagabonds.
The couple became fulltime RVers when Larry retired after four decades as a pastor in Michigan. They sold everything, their house and most of their possessions and had a great adventure traveling the country in their Fifth Wheel.
But then, about a year ago, out of the blue, the worst happened and Larry became critically ill with a medical emergency on the road.
Their RV traveling came to an end.
They had to sell the RV and the truck to meet medical bills.
Larry was not expected to live.
But I don’t want to give away this amazing story of faith and healing. You need to hear it and their advice about the RV Lifestyle and a story that has a very happy ending.
Also in this week's podcast, tips and comments from RVers, RV News of the Week, RV questions, and a great Hidden Campground Gem report.
You can watch a video version of the entire Podcast by clicking the player below.
For an audio version, you can find and subscribe to the RV Podcast on your favorite podcast app or click the player below to hear it on your device right now.
Here's a transcript of our interview with Larry and Mary Allen, who now call themselves Second Chance Vagabonds.
Interview Transcript: When the Worst Happens – A Medical Emergency on the Road
Mike Wendland: Joining us now from their home in Warren, Michigan, Larry and Mary Allen. How are you guys?
Mary Allen: We're great.
Larry Allen: Doing wonderful. Glad to be with you.
Mike Wendland: Well, it is great to have you guys with us. Now, we've got a lot of ground to cover in this tale of how life can throw us a curve, but our job is to kind of turn into the curve and then straighten it out. And I can't wait to hear … share your story with our audience. So talk to us about it, about how you came into the RV lifestyle, and let's just kind of walk through your adventure.
Larry Allen: Well, we've camped our entire marriage. We spent our first anniversary in a pup tent.
Mike Wendland: Really?
Mary Allen: Big spender he is.
Mike Wendland: I guess so!
How they became fulltime RVers
Larry Allen: And when our kids came along, we got a popup and used the popup for about 25 or 30 years and sold it a few years ago with the intent of eventually getting an RV to use. But when we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, we went to Alaska, had such a wonderful time on that trip. At the airport, waiting for our flight home, Mary said, “When we retire, we should live full-time and travel in an RV.” And that's all she had to say, I was in. I started shopping.
Mike Wendland: Now, how long ago was this?
Larry Allen: That was in 2015. We spent four years preparing. I started listening to you soon after that. A friend had told me about your podcast then
Anyway, started listening to the podcast, got ready. And October 27th, 2019, I retired. We left that day. We began our journey that afternoon and had a wonderful time. In our first 13 months, we traveled almost 22,000 miles, spent at least one night in 21 different states, actually visited 22, and boondocked, we camped in national parks, state parks, just had a wonderful time.
Mike Wendland: Now, and Mary, you left kids, family, house back home and moved into an RV?
Mary Allen: Yeah. We sold our house and moved into an apartment so we could get used to being in small, confined and do without, make things operate without much junk.
Mike Wendland: Would you advise that to other folks who are considering full-time life, to try that? That seems very reasonable.
Mary Allen: I would. As Larry said, we don't have a lot of room inside, but we'll have a lot of room outside. And so, there's been a lot of walking when you have to go get out of that tight space. But yeah, I would.
Larry Allen: I believe I heard a great man who does an outstanding podcast and video channel say he has a small house, but an enormous yard.
Mike Wendland: I almost had that sweatshirt on for this interview today. We have a sweatshirt with that on it in our merch store, and I almost was wearing that today.
Mary Allen: That's our motto.
Mike Wendland: But it is the truth though, isn't it?
Mike Wendland: It's the truth, isn't it?
Larry Allen: It is.
Larry Allen: Right.
But then the worst happened…
Mike Wendland: Everything was going along great, right? And then, what happens?
Larry Allen: A year ago, we are in the Rio Grande Valley, going to spend the winter there. I was actually going to be a chaplain at an RV resort for the winter. And-
Mike Wendland: I should point out, you are a retired pastor.
Larry Allen: That's correct. That's correct. Was in ministry 45 years before I retired.
So we're in the Rio Grand Valley, we're excited about the resort we're in. It was very nice, very large resort. Of course, it was during COVID, and so it was affecting the number of winter Texans that were going to be there, but we were off to a good start.
We were able to have a few services, but I began feeling badly and got quite sick. Finally, the day after Thanksgiving last year, went to a … I thought it was an urgent care, it turned out to be a standalone emergency room, and discovered I had cirrhosis of the liver and wound up in the-
Mike Wendland: Let me stop you right there. That's a strange disease for a retired pastor.
Larry Allen: I'm filing a workers' comp claim over all the times I had to serve communion over those years. That's the only explanation I have. Although, we use grape juice, so I'm not sure it'll hold up.
Mike Wendland: I don't think that's going to work. Just to give everybody a sense, Mary, what was he like when he started to feel poorly? I mean, I suspect that he's one of these guys that never feels bad.
Mary Allen: He didn't want to eat, and we like to eat, we like to try new stuff, and he had no energy. Couldn't ride his bike, just could not enjoy being outside. And I kept saying, “We need to go get you looked at,” and we did finally.
Mike Wendland: So you go into the hospital, and you're stunned-
Mary Allen: Shocked.
Mike Wendland: … cirrhosis of the liver. How do you get that, if it's not from alcohol?
Larry Allen: They didn't really have an explanation. I've been a diabetic for a number of years. It's always been controlled. I've taken pretty good care of myself. And they think maybe that was one of the causes, but they really haven't pinpointed what caused it.
The medical emergecy on the Road forced them off the road
Mike Wendland: So what happens to your RV life with a diagnosis like that?
Larry Allen: Well, I spent eight days in the hospital that first visit. They worked on getting some swelling out of my legs and sent me home. But then, so we were back in the RV. I still wasn't feeling well and actually progressively got worse. And then December 23rd, last year, went back to the hospital and wound up staying until … well, we were there all together 31 days. And they also diagnosed me in the second visit with kidney failure as well.
Mike Wendland: Cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure. Wow. What do you do?
Mary Allen: You cry. You cry and pray.
Larry Allen: Well, the doctors there told us that those two problems together were very complicated and that … I asked about dialysis. Being a pastor, you're around sick folks all the time and you learn about medicine. My kidney doctor was also the medical director of the hospital. He was a pretty sharp guy, and he told me that dialysis was not a good option because it can be so dangerous, causes your blood pressure to plummet. Their goal then … We decided we had to stop RVing. We couldn't just be down there.
Mike Wendland: You had to come off the road?
Larry Allen: Right. And we needed to get back to Michigan. And both our daughters came, one from Minnesota, one from here in Michigan, came to spend that time with us and help us. And we were members of Family Motor Coach Association.
The FMCA Assist Program came alongside of them in their time of need
Mike Wendland: FMCA it's called now.
Larry Allen: Right, FMCA.
Mike Wendland: Yep.
Larry Allen: I'd seen their tags on the back of RVs. I joined it because I could. They had just opened it up to towables right before we went full-time, and I just thought it'd be cool to be a member. I had no idea they had FMCA Assist at the time.
Mike Wendland: Now, you were in a fifth wheel?
Larry Allen: We were in a fifth wheel. I towed it with a 3500 Ram pickup.
Mike Wendland: So let's give a shout out to that FMCA Assist program. Mary, take us, how that helped you guys, because Larry's still pretty sick.
Mary Allen: Yeah, he's sick and not able to communicate well. I mean, he was able to talk. And when my daughters came down, I asked, I says, “Your dad says we have FMCA Assist, and we've had people all over the country say they'll come and get us back to Michigan when the hospital would release him.”
And so, we just … I had her call, one daughter call to just check to see if dad had read the report right, read the magazine right, that we had this. And they answered all her questions, they suggest, we'll take care of it. And from then on, they talked to the hospital 90% of the time, because until Larry could get released, and assured us everything would be okay.
They were fantastic. I mean, we didn't know. I didn't realize we really had it, and I was just shocked that they were going to fly us home, get somebody to drive our RV home to Michigan and not … and we didn't have to worry about anything, and also provided us a nurse.
So I knew that would happen fast, so we had to get stuff together when they decided he could go home. We had to get the fifth wheel ready to travel north and the truck and everything.
And we would just … I was astonished how well it went. And then, they took Larry from the hospital to the airport. The airport, a nurse met us there, put Larry in first class with his nurse, and me and my daughter got to stay in the backseat and ride home. But it was just truly a blessing what they offered, and we got that for just having a membership.
It keeps getting worse
Mike Wendland: So you're back in Michigan, you're thinking your RV days are done, and you've got a pretty grim prognosis, Larry.
Larry Allen: Right.
Mike Wendland: Now what happens?
Larry Allen: They transferred me from the hospital in Texas to a rehab here in Michigan. And five days in, I got sicker, my white blood cells plummeted and the doctor rushed … they rushed me by ambulance to the hospital in Royal Oak, Beaumont Hospital and found out I had COVID.
Mike Wendland: It was as if there could be anything more…
Larry Allen: Yeah.
Mike Wendland: … you get COVID.
Larry Allen: And COVID was attacking my bone marrow, causing my blood cells to get all out of whack. They treated me for eight days. While I was there, Mary had done all the work to get us a place to live, and we had friends give us furniture.
It was amazing how God gave people in our lives to help us and help her do all of that. I was out of the hospital two weeks, went back to see the liver doctor hoping to get a process going to possibly get on a transplant list eventually. And they admitted me to the hospital, and I was there for a few days, developed an internal bleed.
They had to do surgery for that. And things were going bad fast, but finally, in March of this year, March the 1st, they had did surgery to correct the internal bleeding. March the 2nd, just about everybody was certain I was going to die that day. It was bad. I told my wife and daughters goodbye.
The doctors said he was dying but an amazing thing happened
The doctors thought I was dying, everybody did, but due to the power of social media, and I have a love, hate relationship with it, but people all over the world began to pray for me. And the next day, I had taken a 180, I was so much better. And we learned that day-
Mike Wendland: Just like that.
Larry Allen: … that I had got on one of the … the 2nd and 3rd, we learned that I was on the transplant list for kidney and liver. And on the 4th, the head of the transplant team came in and said, “We think we found organs for you.”
Mike Wendland: Oh my goodness. That usually takes years.
Larry Allen: It does. The average wait in Michigan for a kidney is five years and for a liver is 11 months. And here overnight, they found my organs. And so, the next day, on the 5th-
Mike Wendland: What do you know about your donor? I mean, that's always a question people ask.
Larry Allen: Yeah, my donor, all I know, it was a 19-year-old male, and I think that's tragic. I mean, I'm so grateful for the gift I was given and all the opportunity it gives me, but I grieve for his family and it seems such a tragedy. And that, honestly, spurs me to be a better steward of the rest of my life and the gift that I've been given.
Mike Wendland: So you had the surgery against all odds and you got better.
Larry got better
Larry Allen: And got better.
Mary Allen: It took a while to get better because other things kept happening. And in the meantime, we decided to sell everything because I really didn't think he was going to make it, me of little faith.
Mike Wendland: Selling the fifth wheel.
Mary Allen: So we sold the … well, we traded the truck off because he couldn't get in it, and then we sold the fifth wheel, and I thought we were done traveling.
Mike Wendland: But you're done. You've got all these situations and it's just not going to get better. The odds were very grim.
Mary Allen: Yeah.
Mike Wendland: But you did get better.
Mary Allen: We did.
And RVing came back into their lives
Larry Allen: I did get better. And when I decided I wasn't going to die, I started looking on the internet, while I'm laying in the hospital, at RVs.
Larry Allen: There's a lot about the hospital stay I don't remember, but I do remember beginning to want to RV again. And I was actually looking on the internet and watching to see, and I decided that an older motorhome would be affordable to us and easier to manage than a fifth will.
And a couple of months ago, we got back into the RV business. We've got a 1999 Southwind Storm, 30-foot class A, classic, beautiful, wonderful condition, and actually have taken three short trips here in Michigan with it before we put it into storage.
Mike Wendland: So you're back able to RV again. Now, we tell this story because that is everybody's fear, so many people, about what happens if the worst happens. Well, the worst happened to you guys and as we rang this up, I'd really love you to give some advice to other people. One, who are worried that, well, maybe we're too old to go out on the RV, or what happens if it all happens? Talk about that pivot that you made.
Larry Allen: Well, we've discovered that when the worst happens, it brings out the best in a lot of people. And people in Texas that we had only known for a matter of weeks were so supportive and helpful. A couple we met in Florida when we were at a-
Mary Allen: Rally.
.. rally, an RV rally that we just had happened to park next to, he offered to come to Texas and tow my RV home. I mean, we just met them and we had planned, in that short time, a trip together, but COVID knocked that in the head. We didn't get to do it.
The lessons they learned
But I mean, it's when the worst happens, honestly, the best comes out in people, and people were there to help us. Some of the preparations we had made, like joining FMCA and some other things, had prepared us for that, even though we never imagined that that would happen.
And honestly, we're people of faith, and I would tell people that they need to nurture their faith because when you need it worst is the best time to have it.
Mike Wendland: Mary, your advice?
Mary Allen: My advice is just taking it day by day, but go as you take it day by day. What happens, happens. We have no control over some things in life, and I'm not going to sit around waiting for something to happen. I'm going to enjoy.
We've had 13 great months of what we did on faith and a desire. And I just say, don't let fear hold you back, just go for it. And when, if something does happen, unfortunately, use your faith again to get you through it because that's how we did it.
Larry Allen: Yeah.
Mike Wendland: Well, I know you're speaking to some other people who are probably thinking that it can't get any worse, and that may be true, but it can get better.
Mary Allen: It can.
Larry has no regrets
Larry Allen: It does. It can get better. We have no regrets. None whatsoever. We had a wonderful time. And even though we were far from our family and support, we managed it. I mean, and if we could, anybody can.
Mike Wendland: There you go. That's the thing. Well, I thank you both for telling your story, and I can't wait to meet you guys out on the road when the weather gets a little better there in Michigan.
Mary Allen: Well, no. Larry thinks we need to come up to the UP this January, February, whenever you-
Mike Wendland: For our winter campout?
Larry Allen: Yes.
Mary Allen: Yeah. He's thinking it. He's trying to convince me.
Larry Allen: I think we could do that.
Mike Wendland: Hey, if you did your honeymoon in a pup tent, you can camp in the snow in the UP in January.
Mary Allen: This is true. So, we might see you.
Mike Wendland: God bless both of you, and thank you again for sharing.
Larry Allen: Thank you, Mike. We appreciate all you all do.