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July 8, 2013

Making a Difference: Caregiver whose husband is battling ALS thankful for the support of her neighbors

NEW CASTLE — Marilyn Garczynski knew that helping her husband battle ALS would take every ounce of strength and courage they could muster.

Ever since John Garczynski was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) on Oct. 13, 2010, there have been daily trials.

About a year ago, John lost all upper body muscle movement. Nights at the Garczynski household became darker and longer.

Relying on “the peace that passes all understanding,” they took on the increasing physical and emotional challenges even as Marilyn continued to work as a secretary in the Department of Communication at Slippery Rock University. “I’m thankful for my job and the people there,” she said.

Marilyn credits the steadfast support of family and friends, especially Judy and Rick Jones, with keeping her energized. The Garczynskis and Joneses have been Graceland Road neighbors for 24 years.

“Judy and Rick are amazing,” Marilyn said. “I’ve called many times in the middle of the night and they’re here in minutes.”

At first, she was hesitant to ask for help, but the Joneses made it clear she was to call.

“What she and John are going through is very stressful,” said Judy. “We want to help. If the situation were reversed, they’d be there for us.”

Although Judy lost her job recently, she believes it was God’s perfect timing. “It allowed me to come when needed,” she said.

Before the Garczynskis could purchase a stairlift, Rick and Judy were there every morning and night to lend a hand. In Marilyn’s attempts to move John from place to place, sometimes his legs would give out.


When Marilyn gets home from work, Judy calls with the evening’s menu. “She brings supper every night,” Marilyn said.

“Last winter, they shoveled the drive so I could make it to work. Last summer, they kept my grass cut ... and I have a lot of grass.”

But according to Marilyn, there is so much more.

Their encouragement, humor and insight have helped Marilyn and John endure tough times and celebrate sweet ones.

“They always make a bad situation better with humor,” said Marilyn. “They put everything at peace, no matter how bad.”

John continues to display his sense of humor even during the most difficult of times. “He’s a really funny guy,” said Rick, who is inspired by the couple he tries to help.  “They deal with this situation in such an amazing way. I know others see it, too.”

John, who will be turn 65 this month, was an accountant. He handled the family finances and paid the bills. “I never wrote a check for 25 years,” said Marilyn, who has taken over those duties.

When their daughter, Christina, was married to Justin Lamberto last October, John was able to take part in the ceremony, but only after urging from Judy.

Christina wanted her father to walk her down the aisle at St. Camillus Church, but John was self conscious. He was going to be stationed up front, but Judy persuaded him to take a more active role. So John got out of his wheelchair, meeting Christina halfway down the aisle. From there, with assistance from family, completed the traditional walk to the steps of the altar.

“It was such a touching moment,” said Judy.

Marilyn said her husband is grateful he did it. “It means so much to him now.”

The reception that followed was filled with other special moments such as Christina surprising her father with a video tribute in place of the father-daughter dance.

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