On a single day, the Graczyk family’s world changed forever. From an early age, Dawn and Eric Graczyk’s daughter, Marissa, struggled with health issues that eluded doctors. Years of hospital visits and trips to specialists yielded no indication of what might be ailing their daughter. But after Marissa was hospitalized in 2016, Mom and Dad finally learned what was causing her constant falling, speech difficulties and chronic illness—Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), a rare, genetic neuromuscular disorder that causes complete loss of motor function and terminal heart disease. FA has no cure and no known treatment, and will cut Marissa’s life tragically short.
When they received the heartbreaking diagnosis, Dawn and Eric immediately had their five other children tested for the disorder. The news was devastating; their son Josiah (Jo-Jo), was also diagnosed with FA, which was progressing at a rate faster than Marissa’s.
The Graczyks face a long, uphill battle—but they do not face it alone. When they must travel from their home in Missouri to Iowa City, where Marissa and Jo-Jo see specialists to monitor their health, there is love and support waiting for them at the Ronald McDonald House.
“My kids, understandably, don’t like to go to the hospital, but they think the House is the best place on Earth,” says Dawn. To her, a visit to the House where her kids can pick out a free toy, eat their favorite snacks and play while mom gets to rest, is a reason to get excited. Once, she recalls, her young son was supposed to stay home during a trip to Iowa. Not wanting to miss the fun at the House, he attempted to hide under a seat in the family van so he could sneak along.
“In the end, we couldn’t say no, and we decided to let him come. If you can get past all that sadness and still have the time of your life—that speaks a lot about the Ronald McDonald House.”