When Colleen O’Neal was selected as Student of the Month at Northern Middle School, one of the things her teachers commented on was the joy that she spreads to those around her. What makes that joy remarkable is that it comes in the face of a rare genetic disease causing the 12-year-old Monaghan Twp. girl to slowly lose her ability to walk, to write, to speak clearly — in short, to live life as she knew it.

“There are days when I feel like giving up,” the blue-eyed, blond-haired, soon-to-be seventh-grader said. “Some days I just kind of do give up. I wonder why this had to happen to me. I don’t have any answers.”

Three years ago, after repeated bouts of rapid heart rate and unexplained falls, Colleen was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia — a degenerative disease of the nervous system that is marked by slow, progressive loss of balance, coordination and muscle strength. It can also have potentially life-threatening effects on the heart. There is no cure.

Read More: Friedreich's ataxia has no cure, but researchers are working on answers