Actress Sarah Chalke is best known for playing a doctor on the hit TV show Scrubs , but she discovered her true passion for medicine when her son, Charlie, was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that primarily affects children: Kawasaki disease. The autoimmune illness, also known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, causes chronic inflammation of blood vessels, which can lead to coronary embolisms and heart attacks.
“Charlie had this rash on his face, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Sarah says. “And then from there, the next few days, he just got so sick. By the fourth day, he was pretty listless and limp in my arms.”
Kawasaki disease is the primary cause of acquired heart disease in children in the U.S., and it is often misdiagnosed, due to symptoms that mimic other illnesses, such as measles, scarlet fever and other bacterial infections. A proper and expedient diagnosis is crucial, however, as Kawasaki disease should be treated within a 10-day window from the time symptoms present. After the disease surpasses the 10-day mark, coronary artery aneurysms can begin to form, which may result in permanent heart damage and elevate the risk for cardiac arrest.
"I really felt like I needed to do something right away to raise awareness, because you have this very short window to get the treatment to save their heart," Sarah explains.
Sarah documented Charlie's symptoms with pictures, which assisted pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Wilbert Mason, from Children's Hospital Los Angeles, in his diagnosis. Charlie underwent immediate treatment, as he had been showing signs of the disease for 10 days. Treating Kawasaki disease involves intravenously administering gamma globulin — a protein found in blood — to suppress overactivity of the immune system, combined with high doses of aspirin to decrease arterial inflammation.