Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill fitness family faces test after severe stroke

Eric McClellan shows some of the fitness photos of wife Donna, who suffered a severe stroke in July.
Eric McClellan shows some of the fitness photos of wife Donna, who suffered a severe stroke in July.

What happened to Donna McClellan doesn’t make sense.

Few families are more active, she a former drug-free bodybuilder and a fitness instructor since she left college more than 25 years ago. Few pay more attention to their food. Husband Eric grows much of it out back, from fruit and vegetables, to harvested honey.

They aren’t a picture family, but the couple on their fridge fit them. One shows Ayden, who started eighth grade at Fort Mill Middle School on Monday, in her track uniform. The other, Ayden and Eric on a hike together.

That the McClellan home backs up to the Anne Springs Close Greenway is no accident.

“She’s been involved in fitness her whole life, in working out,” Eric said of his wife. “It’s pretty devastating. We’re a pretty fit family.”

Donna, 54, suffered a stroke mid-July. Eric returned home hours after last seeing her, so he isn’t sure and doesn’t want to think about how long she waited before he was able to call for help. She went to one hospital and was airlifted to another. She spent a week in intensive care, almost that long on a ventilator.

On Aug. 8 the hospital transferred her to rehabilitation.

The whole incident blindsided the family who takes to their health with such conviction.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Eric said. “But I know that Donna will look at this — we look at this — as there’s a positive lesson to anything bad that happens.”

Others are trying to make something positive, too. Donna is best known in the Baxter area for her work at the YMCA there. In addition to fitness training, she has programs for children she created.

“She developed and integrated children’s programs, typically for children who came with their parents,” Eric said. “It gives them something to do while their parents work out.”

Beth Evansek knows Donna through those programs. Evansek set up a page for the McClellans’ medical bills, which Monday morning had more than $2,300 raised toward a $10,000 goal.

“She has introduced fitness and good health into so many of our kids' lives and they all adore her,” Evansek said. “She is also a personal trainer and has helped several community members get into shape.”

Evansek calls Donna a “wonderful, warm-hearted woman who is also the most selfless and caring person you will come across.” Eric appreciates all the love and prayers sent his way since the stroke. Yet, an upper percentile optimist, he finds it a little strange given all his family has.

“We don’t have a lot, but we’ve got what we need,” Eric said. “We don’t need a lot.”

A self-employed carpenter, Eric hadn’t thought much about health insurance in the past as no one in the family ever got sick.

“We eat good food, and that’s medicine for us,” he said.

With the federal healthcare mandate in recent years, though, the family signed up for a plan. The timing was a blessing.

“It would be terrible,” Eric said. “It’s the lowest end plan with the highest deductible, but thank God we have it.”

He has a hard time not finding the good in bad, not finding a lesson in hardship. Despite his wife being “one of the worst in there,” Eric can’t help but think of so many in the hospital who didn’t receive the room full of flowers Donna did.

“Just say a prayer for my wife, and there’s a lot of people you see in that hospital,” Eric said.

There are larger and smaller inconveniences following the stroke. Recovery will take at least a couple of years. It also nixed the family vacation, though Ayden got away for a few days at the beach with friends. Smaller moments remain, like Eric having to make school lunches more often and perhaps walk his daughter — if she will let him — to the bus stop.

Ayden will have to walk the animals since mom can’t.

“She did a lot of stuff that I never realized I never thought about,” Eric said.

Eric may even have to be a little less fun for a while.

“Mom is more the disciplinarian,” he said. “I’m more the friend that likes to do stuff.”

Still, Eric just can’t help himself from being positive. Who better than someone with his outlook, to endure something so sure to test it? And who better than his wife, who won clean bodybuilding awards mostly because someone told her she never would, who never takes no for the final answer, to face what she has ahead of her?

“She’s come a long way since those first couple of days,” Eric said. “With what she’s got to do now, her realizing the limitations that have been put on her right now, soon she’s going to take that as a full on challenge.”

Want to help?

To help with the McClellan recovery fund, visit