Dawn Grace is on a mission to acquaint the Tri-State with Sarcoidosis. The rare disease affects fewer than 200,000 Americans a year. Since being diagnosed with the disease in 2017 she has ventured on a crusade to connect people with the disease so they know they are not alone.

For the past eight years Dawn has served as a nurse aide at Doverwood Village in Fairfield Township. Through the years she has encountered dozens of diseases, but Sarcoidosis was never on her radar. Until now.

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs of the body. The majority of cases seem to center on the lungs and lymph glands. It is characterized by the formulation of granulomas—tiny clumps of inflammatory cells in one or more organs of the body.

“I was feeling a little tired and had arrhythmia so I went to the doctor,” Dawn recalls. “Sarcoidosis is hard to diagnose so it often takes a pulmonary test, CT scan or chest X-rays to start the process of identifying the disease.”

Often teams of specialists work together until they narrow the symptoms to a firm diagnosis. The disease is rarely fatal but the symptoms can become chronic. The chance of permanent lung damage now sits at 20-30% of patients.

“One of the first things I did upon diagnosis was attend a KISS (Kick In to Stop Sarcoidosis) walk in Canton,” Dawn recalls. “I saw how people were meeting and exchanging stories. It became obvious that we need something here.”

So Dawn developed an action plan. First she would take care of herself. Then she would be an advocate for disease awareness throughout the area.

“I cut red meat from my diet as well as processed foods and those with fructose. I switched to almond milk. The results are amazing. I have lost over 30 pounds and can do a 12-hour shift with no problem. My goal is to eat and live as naturally as possible. It seems to be working so far.”

Since Dawn’s health has improved she enlisted the help of her “second family,” the staff at Doverwood Village, to participate in the area’s first KISS Walk. Over 40 participants showed up for the Fairfield Township walk in April, not counting her own eager-to-help-family. The group raised over $1,800 for Sarcoidosis research. Some participants battling the disease swapped contact information. They found that the list of symptoms is long and diagnosis is arduous.

Sarcoidosis symptoms can include an enlarged liver, heart arrhythmia or chest pain, joint pain, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing, abnormal breathing and reddish bumps or patches on the skin. If not treated, the disease can create further skin rashes, joint pain and stiffness, eye irritation or dryness, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, kidney stones and abnormal liver function.

Since the only other KISS walk is now in Cleveland, Dawn plans to hold a second walk in April 2019 to increase awareness.

“As long as I stay healthy I’m going to do everything I can to let people know about this rare disease,” she says with determination. “My family is behind me 100% as is my ‘second family’ here at Doverwood Village.

Those who wish to get involved in the next walk can contact the Foundation For Sarcoidosis Research at www.stopsarcoidosis.org