Community steps up to donate special van equipped for Missouri family with two kids fighting rare disease

JOHNSON COUNTY, Mo. – Fox 4 first introduced you to the Graczyk family earlier this month. Now, thanks to help from strangers, they have a vehicle that is properly equipped for their family.

Wednesday night started with a bag full of Christmas when Terry Franz and Christopher Shell with Cars 4 Heroes brought a bag full of toys donated by Michael Bergen with Hands to Heart.

“They’re not worried about the grown-up things," Franz said of the six kids. "They like the toys. Mom and Dad have enough stress.”

This time last year, the Graczyks were reeling over the news that two of their six kids have Friedrich’s Ataxia. It’s a disease that lessens lifespans and will lead to heart failure.

“They’re to be commended for everything they’re going through," Renee Harju said of her daughter and son-in-law. "I wouldn’t have their strength and endurance that they have.”

Eric and Dawn Graczyk's six children

Dawn Graczyk said they had some trouble with military insurance covering a lift for their van or widening the stairs to their basement. Since their story first aired on Fox 4, Dawn said Tricare has been working with them.

“But there was still some financial difficulties," she said. "There were pieces that Tricare wouldn’t cover that were necessary.”

That’s where Cars 4 Heroes stepped in.

On Wednesday, they gave the family a van with a wheelchair lift installed.

“You can see it means a lot of stress goes away," Franz said. "All of a sudden, half the problems aren’t there, and you see the look on their face.”

For Dawn Graczyk, it was a look of relief and ability.

“Once Marissa can go in her chair, we’ll be able to go out and do stuff we haven’t done!” she said.

“They’re not getting a prize or a big gift," Franz said. "What it is, is a tool that they can use and they can make their life a little bit easier.”

Easier in the time they have left as a family of eight. A bit of holiday help and a reason, for now, to smile.

“Just to know that there still are people out there who are generous and who care and that we aren’t alone in the difficulties we are facing," Dawn Graczyk said.

“The generosity and kindness of individuals that went above and beyond to help my daughter and my grandkids is very heartwarming," Harju said.

A metro construction company also visited the Graczyks home Wednesday evening. They didn’t want to be on camera and wanted no recognition for their help, but they measured the family’s basement and stairwell to see if they can make it lift-ready -- a stipulation the Graczyks said Tricare requires before agreeing to cover the cost of a lift to get the wheelchairs in and out of the basement living area.

Previous coverage: