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A Story of Survival

Danielle Campo McLeod Releases New Memoir

Story by Michael Seguin

I first spoke to Danielle Campo McLeod over the phone in August 2020.

Now, over two years later, her voice finds me again on a cool December morning. 

“How have you been?” I ask.

Danielle considers the question for a moment.

“Things have changed,” she reports.

Windsor has always been less of a city and more of a sprawling constellation of stories. However, even in a city as teeming with narrative as ours, Danielle’s is a particularly moving one.

Danielle is a 37-year-old former Paralympic Gold Medalist, Social Worker, Motivational Speaker, World Record-Holding Swimmer, wife, mother and the Director of Culture and Engagement with Muscular Dystrophy Canada. In addition, she also serves as a Chair on Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Capital Campaign. 

As an infant, Danielle’s parents noticed that she was struggling with mobility. Assuming she’d inherited her father’s flat feet and needed orthotics, they were surprised when she was instead referred to a specialist.

Danielle was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy shortly before her second birthday. 

And that is, in essence, when her challenges—and by extension, her story, truly began. 

Danielle grew up having to contend with severe weakness in her legs. However, rather than rest on her laurels, she took a proactive approach to her treatment. She strengthened what muscles she could and started swimming as a form of physiotherapy.

From there, Danielle was approached by the Windsor Bulldogs, a differently abled sports league. She went on to become a Paralympic Swimming champion, competing in two Paralympic Games. 

But despite her athletic accomplishments, Danielle still felt strangely out of place. After decades of treatment, she wasn’t seeing much improvement with her condition.

“Muscular Dystrophy Canada’s logo is a puzzle piece,” Danielle said, during our initial interview. “And I always felt like a different piece. I never fit in the puzzle.” Imagine everyone’s surprise when, 33 years after her initial diagnosis, she was re-diagnosed with Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome.

This meant a number of things. Mainly that there was medication available.

“It was an incredible time,” Danielle recalls. “I was gaining strength, gaining abilities. I was able to start to live outside of my disability. I was getting stronger and stronger every day.”

Shortly thereafter, Danielle was presented with another welcome surprise: she was expecting her third child.

“Unfortunately, being pregnant meant I was no longer able to take the medication,” Danielle explains. “I mean, I could have—there’s no studies that show that the pills would hurt the baby. But I decided to be safe and discontinue the treatment.”

In August of 2021, Danielle and her husband welcomed their baby girl Morgan into the world, and “—that’s where things went crazy,” Danielle states.

Morgan was delivered via C-section, as with Danielle’s two previous children. However, Danielle noticed that she wasn’t feeling herself after the procedure.

“I knew what to expect,” Danielle explains. “You get up, you walk around. You’re usually out in 48 hours. But things just weren’t going that way. I wasn’t feeling good. There was pain in my stomach. Typically after you have a baby there’s a difference in the size of the abdomen. But mine kept growing!”

Doctors investigated these disquieting signs. They eventually discovered that a piece of her bowel had perforated her muscle lining. 

“They operated,” Danielle explains. “They thought they removed the chunk of bowel that had become necrotic. They thought everything was okay. But then, I ended up with a severe infection with sepsis.”

It took three additional surgeries to halt the infection. 

“It feels like a dream,” Danielle laughs. “You know when you wake up and you know you had a dream but you can’t remember the details? You can’t fit the puzzle pieces together? That’s how it feels. I just remember waking up on life support with a tube down my throat.”

Danielle takes another moment to consider her predicament: “I didn’t realize how close I came to dying until I started working on the book,” she admits.

And now, Danielle can add Author to her resume. Her new memoir, Resurrections, was released earlier this month.

“I was contacted by Marty Beneteau, the External Partnership Liaison at the Odette School of Business,” Danielle explains. “He invited me to speak to the MBA program. So I went in and told them my story. He reached out later to tell me that the feedback he received from my talk was incredible. He said my speech had inspired many students to push through their own difficulties.”

Touched, Danielle made a surprising suggestion: “I’m still not sure how these words came out of my mouth, but I literally said: ‘Hey Marty, would you write my book?’” Danielle recalls.

Marty agreed. For months, Danielle met Marty at his home to share her story over coffee—a tradition they both dubbed Thursdays With Marty. Despite Danielle not considering herself a writer (“It would take me 14 years to get Chapter One!”), she found herself in good hands. Marty is a former Editor, Publisher, and Reporter—and his gift with language is apparent. Together, the two were able to replicate the warmth and intimacy of Danielle’s voice with shimmering clarity.

“Our big goal was to ensure that everything came from my mouth,” Danielle states. “I wanted people reading it to feel like they were right there, having coffee with the two of us. And getting to spend those Thursdays with Marty was so instrumental for my own healing journey. The way he holds space for you is so profound.”

Resurrections has been described as a “roadmap to wellness” and the role that becoming “Olympian strong” played in Danielle’s survival. It is equal parts raw, devastating, and uproariously funny. 

And thus far, response to Danielle’s memoir has been overwhelming.

“Our community is incredible,” Danielle stresses. “The support from our city is astonishing. We had a book signing on Sunday, and I said to my husband, ‘It’s going to be so embarrassing if no one shows up!’ And then, we had all kinds of people show up… it was amazing! You can’t go through something like this and not be excited to give back.”

And in terms of timing, Resurrections is perhaps the book we all need right now. 

“There’s something for everyone in the book,” Danielle explains. “Everyone has gone through a struggle. People are reading this and getting inspired, hopeful. And considering everything we’ve been through the last few years, that’s the greatest gift you can give to someone. We’re all going through our own resurrection.”

Resurrections is currently available at daniellecampo.com and Amazon. Physical copies are also available at the Indigo in Devonshire Mall, the Indigo in Tecumseh, the River Bookshop in Amherstburg and Biblioasis in Windsor. In addition, every copy purchased through Danielle’s website comes with a donation to a local charity. 

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