Special wish granted for a special boy

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Rachel Johnson with son Grayson at St. Mary’s Community Center Tuesday as they visit the St. Clairsville Rotary Club.

By ROBERT A. DEFRANK

Times Leader Staff Writer

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The generosity of area residents and businesses is helping grant a wish to a brave little boy.

Four-year-old Grayson Johnson of Freeport was at the St. Mary’s community center Tuesday with mother, Rachel, and older brother, Joseph. His father, Ken Johnson, was at work. The St. Clairsville Rotary Club made a donation to A Special Wish foundation to send the Johnson family to a beach vacation at Edisto Island in South Carolina Aug. 4 – 10. It will be Grayson’s first visit to the beach and his first vacation.

Rachel Johnson said the beach visit would be a welcome opportunity to rest and meet far-flung family members.

“He recently had open-heart surgery, four weeks ago,” she said. “He was granted a special wish and we chose to do a beach vacation. … We have family that live in South Carolina. We thought it’d be nice to visit family and relax as a family. … Just to be together as a family and rest and enjoy the serenity at the beach.”

Rachel Johnson said her son has been undergoing major surgery since his first six months of life. She said that Grayson was born with Down syndrome and three congenital heart defects, two holes in his heart, and other heart issues. Grayson was also born with Hirschprung disease, which affects the bowel.

“When he was born, he had 75 percent of his large intestine removed,” she said.

She said Grayson’s surgeries and other treatments took place at the Cleveland Clinic, meaning a great deal of travel and expense.

“Our lives are always so busy. Doctor’s appointments and the kids are busy and active,” she said.

“Since Grayson’s been born, we haven’t had the opportunity to have babysitters or people to watch him. My husband and I don’t get a lot of opportunities go go out together we haven’t had a vacation since Grayson was born. We’ve not been able to afford one or be able to go somewhere and just have help with him.”

“He’s very active,” she said. “Besides the medical expenses, he requires a lot of care. It’s more work than it is fun to go do stuff, so this special wish that’s being granted is a huge blessing. … An opportunity to be together and celebrate him getting past all this stuff.”

She said they will also visit Splash Zone, a water park on the island.

Rachel Johnson said they were referred to A Special Wish by Travis ‘the Terror’ Clark of St. Clairsville. The professional boxer has been working with Grayson on physical therapy and he has also helped A Special Wish in prior projects.

“We got close to Travis, and Travis really took a liking to Grayson. He called me one day after a Saturday session of personal training and let us know he wanted to nominate Grayson for a wish,” she said. “We’ve definitely been in contact with a few other families who have children going through similar surgeries and similar struggles, and that helps as a parent, knowing that someone else is going through the same thing and they understand.”

“I want to thank the Rotary Club and the Special Wish foundation. I think it’s incredible that people help and are so giving to strangers,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to pass it forward to another family in the future.”

Alicia Freeman, executive director of A Special Wish, said one of her goals is to help their mission by establishing connections to the community.

“We’re grateful that Travis referred the family to us,” Freeman said. “Travis thought Grayson would be a perfect candidate for a wish and it worked out, and we’re very grateful and blessed that the St. Clairsville Rotary Club could donate and help sponsor this special wish for Grayson.”

Freeman said while the rotary club was the primary donor, some additional funding for the wish was still needed.

“I feel confident we will be able to fulfill the entire wish before they leave,” she said.

Freeman said the Rotary Club’s fundraising activities have benefited many in the community.

“We were very grateful we were on the club’s fundraising list,” she said. “They put a lot of work into raising those funds to donate back into the community.”

Doug McMullin, president of the St. Clairsville Rotary Club, said it was not his organization’s policy to release share the precise amount donated, but added they hold yearly fundraisers with the goal of making donations to worthy causes.

“Throughout the year we raise approximately $70,000 which we then just distribute throughout the community and internationally as well. We became aware of (A Special Wish) and it met all of our giving principles,” he said. “We were happy to help this family out…A Special Wish is the perfect candidate for us as a club to help. We’re able to give to them directly, they’re able to benefit from that directly, and I hope we’re able to do this again.”

Freeman also commended A Special Wish’s corporate partners, Belmont Savings Bank, Hoagy’s Heroes charity riders, Home Savings Bank, Harvey Goodman Realty.

“They are just wonderful to us,” she said.

“If anyone knows a child or a family that could use a wish, please reach out to use. We would love to help as many families as we can in the Ohio Valley,” she said.

For more information, to donate or to refer a child or family, call 740-449-2063 or visit www.spwishov.org.

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