"If we didn't have our faith in the Lord, we probably wouldn't be together today," Debra, 52, said. "My husband could easily have walked away and not even married me. He's done more for me than most husbands would."
Their story was almost over before it started.
The two met briefly in a real estate class, then reconnected at a church service.
"I was running late one morning and she was in my seat. I asked if she was stalking me," said Larry, 58, chuckling. "She explained that a friend had invited her but hadn't shown up, so that's why she was sitting by herself."
The two began dating and eventually planned to get married in late 2002. It was Debra's first marriage and Larry's second.
Things seemed to look promising. Debra and Larry were making a good living in real estate
during the housing boom. They built a home they would move into when they married. He even bought his dream car, a Jaguar.
But Debra, who had open-heart surgery in 1984, suffered a stroke in June 2002, followed by a second massive stroke in July. Six weeks later, the two were rear-ended in an accident that left Debra in a wheelchair. Everything combined put her into heart failure and destroyed her kidneys.
They decided to get married anyway.
"I said, 'In my heart, I've made a commitment to this lady.' I wasn't going to walk away just because she was injured," Larry said.
"It wasn't the wedding I had envisioned." Debra said. She was out of the wheelchair but needed a walker to move down the aisle at Shelter Cove Community Church.
It wasn't the future they had planned, either.
"Because we were both in the age bracket we were, we thought we'd work several more years and then retire and enjoy life," Debra said.
Instead, they used their life savings to build a home and then had to quit working while Larry cared for Debra -- who was frequently in the University of California at San Francisco hospital -- and her mother, who lived with them.
They had Debra's small Social Security disability payments, but it wasn't enough. They lost their home and Larry's car.
Then pastor David Seifert asked Larry if he would be interested in cooking the church's Saturday evening meal, served every week after the worship service.
"My mom always cooked at the church," Larry said. "She fed the homeless. I literally grew up in the kitchen. I'm a union-trained chef. ... One day, I did the meal for them (Shelter Cove). As one thing led to another, I just started cooking. You never lose it. Cooking for me is a God- given talent."
People in the congregation also began hiring him for small catering events, helping him make ends meet.
But Debra was getting worse.
In 2008, she was at UCSF for about nine months as her heart condition deteriorated. She needed a heart transplant.
"I was hooked up to all kinds of machines, and they told me I probably only had two weeks left to live," Debra said.
Larry was cooking at the church in November 2008 when he got the news he longed to hear: A heart was available and Debra would go into surgery immediately. The surgery began on a Saturday at 6 p.m. and wasn't over until 5:30 the next morning.
The congregation prayed for her during the evening service.
"I was very blessed that I received the heart," Debra said.
She woke up three days later and returned to Modesto after a few months. She had some rejection issues, but the heart is beating well. She still is waiting on a kidney transplant, which has been complicated because of weight she has gained as a result of her medication and impaired kidneys.
In the meantime, she can't have dialysis, which would interfere with her medications and her chances for a successful kidney transplant. So she takes 35 prescriptions -- about 60 pills a day -- and has blood tests every week. She returns to UCSF every two weeks.
And Larry keeps cooking, as the couple continues to live on a limited budget.
"It's a ministry. I cook with my heart," Larry said. "I love for people to enjoy food."
"We used to travel all the time. We don't do that anymore," Debra said. "Going out to eat, going to the shows -- those little things you don't think about -- we don't do them anymore because the money's just not there to do it."
But as they head toward their eighth anniversary, those small luxuries don't matter, the McDonalds said.
"We've got a great marriage," Debra said. "Larry has a heart of gold. We call our problems 'little bumps in the road.' When we have to face something, we definitely take it to prayer."
Will they be doing something special this Valentine's Day?
"Every day is Valentine's Day," Larry said. "God didn't promise us tomorrow. We live one day at a time. We have to look at Valentine's Day today as a gift. It's not a commercial. It's not about flowers. Love is there 24-7."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or email@example.com.