Jefferson Award Winner says son with rare genetic disease made her a better person

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Marlis O’Brien is at a loss for words when asked to describe the love she feels for her son, Erik.

“Boy, I don’t know. I’d do about anything for him,” said Marlis.

Erik was born with a rare genetic disease called ‘pediatric neurotransmitter deficiency.’ He could barely speak. Thanks to organizations like Horse Sense, a program using highly trained horses to build physical strength and confidence Erik is thriving.

“They don’t have all of the same opportunities that their normal developing peers do,” said Marlis.

As a result, Marlis has made it her mission to not only help her son but help other children and their families.

“It’s make you feel good when you can reach out and help someone and I think when you’re a parent whose been there and you’ve struggled with these things it’s good to know you can maybe make the next person’s like a little easier that’s going through the same type of ‘issues and struggles that you did,” said Marlis.

Marlis volunteers at the St. Claire Health Mission, the American Lung Association and with the Wisconsion Asthma Coalition. Marlis knows that the little things that can make the biggest difference in the community.

“I would just encourage people whether it’s helping your neighbor or you know…even just something simple for someone…it just makes you feel good at the end of the day,” said Marlis.

Erik turns 17 on October 19 and even though he is a teen of few words it is obvious how grateful he is to have a mother like Marlis.

For Marlis, the feeling is mutual.

“He’s made me a much better person than I ever was. He’s taught me to open my eyes to other people that might be struggling,” said Marlis.

Heather Armstrong

Heather Armstrong

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