Debra Luis has a wish to see Kentucky horse country before she dies.
Luis, 60 and a Californian, has worked in animal control most of her professional career and has been a horse lover all her life. She is particularly fond of draft horses.
Luis was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. She is already feeling the severe effects of the neurodegenerative disease.
Her speech is slowing. She uses a scooter and a power chair to conserve strength.
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ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the degeneration and death of the motor neurons that communicate with muscles throughout the body. The patient loses the ability to initiate and control muscle movement and might, in later stages of the disease, become paralyzed.
Luis' husband is a dairy farmer. She has three children, ages 31, 29 and 27.
She worked in animal control for San Diego and Southern counties in California and the city of La Mesa. She most recently worked as a supervisor with animal services in Yuba County, Calif.
Her ALS diagnosis began with a simple fall. She had been healthy all her life and didn't even have a regular doctor, she said.
"As we age, our body changes," Luis said in a phone interview. "I took a bad fall, and I thought that the fall was the cause for all this. ... You're getting old, you're getting fat, you're going to have sleep apnea."
Luis told herself she needed to get back in shape, but being in shape wasn't the problem.
"My legs began to get weak," she said. "I'd be squatting down, talking to a dog in the kennel, and it was so hard to get back up. ... My speech became affected. Swallowing has been an issue for a while."
Luis was diagnosed with ALS in January.
ALS does not end kindly. Now, Luis is planning how she would like her life to conclude.
At the top of the list is a trip to Kentucky to see horse farms and the Kentucky Horse Park, and to just drive by the pastures. If it's in Central Kentucky and has to do with horses, she's game.
Visiting Iowa is the closest she has ever come to Kentucky, Luis said.
"My love of horses, I think it's a gift from God," she said, explaining that she had her first pony at age 5. She didn't care for dolls, preferring instead to play with plastic horses.
Then she got emotional and had to take a moment's breather: "It's hard to compose myself," she said, apologizing.
She has told her children that when she dies, she wants her ashes placed in the Nevada County Arena, home of the annual Draft Horse Classic, because she feels more at home there than anywhere else.
"Being in that arena ... is like the best feeling ever," Luis said.
Luis' family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to offset expenses for her trip to Kentucky.
Her sister, Michele Luis, said her sister "is a bright, beautiful, loving woman, ... and I want to help give her a beautiful trip before she has to start fighting this horrible disease."
Based on the pictures she has seen, Kentucky, Debra Luis said, is like the promised land.
"With the beautiful barns and fields, I've never seen anything like Kentucky. I've gotten to go to some nice farms and ranches in our area, but nothing to compare."