DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) -- Three-year-old Gracen Verhagen’s Cerebral Palsy diagnosis can’t stop him from smiling, but it does slow him down a bit.
“With his CP, he's immobile. So he's always in a wheelchair, in his bed, in this sitter. And so he doesn't run around like you or I do, to really work his lungs,” says Gracen’s dad, Mike Verhagen.
Gracen’s daily struggles include a chronic cough and lung disease, a weakened immune system and frequent stomach sickness.
“I think no matter what, how severe it is, if it's mild or moderate or severe, I think no matter what it's hard to watch your child struggle, and not be able to have that body movement and coordination that they should have,” Gracen’s mom, Shanda Verhagen says.
One of eight children, the whole family comes together to care for Gracen.
“I think the hardest part is our whole family … When you have somebody with a disability, it's all about them, that person with the disability in the family,” Shanda says. “So it's harder on the other kids, because it's kind of all about Gracen. Not like it's a bad thing, because he's such a joy and he's amazing. But it is very much centered around Gracen.”
That’s where the idea of a service dog came in, and Gracen’s journey of hope began.
“I just remember praying on the way going, 'God, I just want this dog to choose Gracen,’” Shanda says. “Journey just stopped and froze and put her head on his chest for like 10 seconds, no joke. And just laid there like, 'I'm choosing you.'”
Gracen’s six-month-old puppy, Journey, has become his best friend, and will soon be his service dog.
“The skills that Journey would learn to help him in his everyday life struggles,” Shanda says. “To either put a paw on his chest, or her head on his chest to kind of snap him out of it.”
Journey will be there to calm Gracen’s anxiety, or to help him physically recover from a sick stomach or cough.
In February Journey is eligible for her skill training, but Gracen’s family needs to raise $10,000 to help put her through the program.
“If it weren't for our community, you know, we wouldn't be able to give Gracen this,” Shanda says. “And I know it's going to help him. It's going to help his life. He's already a happy boy, but it's going to help him be even better.”
A benefit for Gracen will be held on Sunday February 11 at Stadium View in Green Bay, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more: https://www.youcaring.com/gracenverhagen-918321