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Tweaking life goals: Ataxia may have thrown Melissa Grant for a loop once or twice. But her dream of adopting children was not deferrable.

In the spring of 1998‚ Melissa Grant seemed to have it all. She had just made partner at her law firm. She had two healthy‚ beautiful children and another on the way. She had a loving husband.

Her health‚ however‚ was declining. Grant was frequently dizzy‚ had trouble walking‚ and was struggling to keep her balance. Doctors tested her for several diseases‚ but they couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong.

The Grant family (from left): Johanna, Samantha, Alex, Ben, Melissa, Dennis, Leah, and Randy.

Finally‚ in January 1999‚ four months after her daughter was born‚ a visit with a physician at the University of Minnesota revealed that she had episodic ataxia.

“My first reaction was relief‚ to have a name for it and to know it was not in my head‚” recalls Grant. “But I was continuing to get sicker‚ and there was really no effective treatment for it.”

It seemed the disease was winning. Grant went from using a cane to needing a walker. She was unable to keep up with her workload as an attorney‚ so she resigned from her position in 2001 and became a full-time mom.

When she began to feel better‚ she went back to school for a graduate degree in philosophy‚ but the stress caused her symptoms to return. “That was a low point for me because I knew that I was not really getting better‚ that the ataxia would not just go away‚” says Grant. “But what I learned in the process was that being at home and watching my kids was something that I could handle within the context of this illness.”

That realization jump-started the family’s plan to adopt—something Grant and her husband‚ Randy‚ had been considering for years.

After numerous inquiries‚ legal discussions‚ and paper chases‚ Melissa and Randy Grant became the proud parents of three siblings from Guatemala: Dennis‚ age 12; Ben‚ age 3; and Leah‚ age 18 months. The adoption was finalized last November‚ and all three children arrived home in Roseville on Thanksgiving Day. They joined the rest of the Grant clan: 16-year-old Samantha‚ 14-year-old Alex‚ and 8-year-old Johanna.

Grant is realistic about her health. She acknowledges that these next few years may be tough physically as she juggles the responsibilities of a bigger family. Currently‚ she uses either a cane or walker‚ depending on how she feels. She has essentially no control over how or when her symptoms flare up‚ but she is grateful that she has a support system to rely on when her ataxia leaves her unable to keep up.

“Losing my career was very hard‚ as was losing the idea that I could have a second career‚” Grant says. “Like everybody‚ I want my life to have meaning and purpose. Opening our home to a larger family is really rewarding to me in part because it allows me to do something very valuable: to raise my children and to do it in the midst of ataxia.”

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