It was a closed set at Grey’s Anatomy last week due to the emotionally charged nature of the scenes being filmed, as guest star Sarah Chalke — whose storyline thus far has been kept under wraps — brought an extremely personal tale to the ABC drama.
CHARLIE’S CLOSE CALL
Two years ago, Chalke and her fiancé Jamie Afifi endured a parent’s worst nightmare when their son Charlie, then barely 12 months old, came down with Kawasaki Disease, a difficult-to-diagnose ailment that inflames blood vessels throughout a child’s body and regularly confounds caregivers. “You present with all these symptoms, you get a lot of repeated misdiagnoses, you keep getting sent home [by doctors]…,” the actress shares with TVLine. “We had a really hard time getting him diagnosed.”
Adding to the real-life drama: The rub with Kawasaki Disease (or KD) is that there is a narrow, approximately 10-day window to get treatment, via a 12-hour blood transfusion. Miss that window and about 1 in 4 patients, who are usually age 5 and younger, develop heart disease involving the coronary arteries.
“We fought really hard to see a specialist, but got the treatment on Day 10-1/2,” Chalke relates. “It was on the late side, but thank God Charlie is OK.” Coming out of that harrowing experience, “We thought, ‘What can we do to help other parents and kids not have to go through what we went through? What about an episode on a medical show?’”
Photo credit: Keith Barnes
Though Chalke’s family went through this two years ago, it was only recently that she began speaking openly about it, at a November “Save a Child’s Heart” fundraiser for KD (photo, right). “Talking about it and hearing other parents speak, that’s sort of what galvanized me to make a difference, to do this now. Obviously in this business, you do whatever you can to protect your child’s privacy, but there’s a time when the scale tips and you figure out a way to talk about it.”
So, in January of this year, the Scrubs alumna met with Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes, executive producer Betsy Beers, writer Joan Rater and research director Meg Marinis. “We just chatted for an hour, as I shared the story of our whole experience,” Chalke says. “They were like, ‘We absolutely want to do this — and we’ll let you play the mom.’”
In the March 28 episode of Grey’s, Chalke guest-stars as a single mother who arrives at the show’s Seattle hospital with her infant son, after suffering repeated misdiagnoses at other ERs yet knowing — hence the episode’s title, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” — that something is quite wrong. As illustrated on the ABC drama, Kawasaki Disease “is a really visual thing,” Chalke says, presenting with any combination of symptoms including red, lipsticked-like lips, red eyes, a rash all over the body, a lingering fever, swollen lymph nodes and — perhaps the most tell-tale indicator — skin peeling from the fingers.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Understandably, though every bit the professional, Chalke couldn’t help but let her own emotions slip through as she dramatized her tale, sharing scenes with Ellen Pompeo and Camilla Luddington. “Oh my God…. There were some tears,” she says. “As an actor, you’re usually like, ‘Will I be able to cry when I’m supposed to cry?’ But this is more like, “Will I be able to stop crying when I have to stop crying?’
“It was definitely a bit scary to tackle,” she continues. “I didn’t know what that experience was going to be like, to hold a baby who was made up to look like Charlie did at that time. It was probably the most challenging thing I’ve done, but it ended up being a really good experience. The thing that means so much to me … is raising awareness about [KD], so that it doesn’t go untreated [for other families].”
HOW TO SAVE A LIFE
Chalke also filmed a PSA, airing at the end of the hour and pointing people to KDFoundation.org, which she regards as “the website that saved Charlie, because that’s the one that we kept going back to, every day for 10 days, looking at this very clear checklist of symptoms and going ‘Yep, yep, yep, yep….’ That was what kept us fighting.”
A spokesperson for the foundation champions Chalke’s effort, saying, “Approximately 5,000 cases of Kawasaki Disease are reported in the United States every year, although the actual number of cases is likely greater because many cases go undiagnosed and untreated…. We are grateful to Sarah for sharing her story and creating awareness about KD. Her efforts may save the lives of young children around the world.”
Indeed, every bit of awareness is critical. According to Chalke, “The Kawasaki doctor we dealt with said they do a news story every year, and often that save lives every year. So she said that this [Grey's Anatomy] episode absolutely is going to save lives. It’s going to save some kids.”
Chalke’s Grey’s episode airs March 28; her new ABC sitcom How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) debuts the following Wednesday, April 3, at 9:30/8:30c.
The saga over Seattle Grace’s fate continued this week on Grey’s Anatomy. Whether she’s acting, directing or choreographing, I believe that a little Debbie Allen makes everything better. Let’s run down the events before Catherine’s pillow talk with Richard led to her grand moment at the episode’s end: – Team McDreamies (Derek, Mer, Calzona and [...]
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This week on Grey’s Anatomy, Bailey becomes so disgusted by the prospect of working for Pegasus Horizons that she tells Arizona that she’s going to quit. And, just as the hospital’s sale is about to go through, someone else actually tenders their resignation. And someone else. And someone else. And… let me explain:
LIKE A VIRGIN | After yet another make-out session with April, Matt the Dreamy Paramedic asks her out on a date that won’t take place in his ambulance. In turn, she freaks, running to Jackson, of all people, for advice on how to explain that she’s a virgin who, for a while there… um, wasn’t. He responds flippantly, then thoughtfully. Then it hardly seems to matter, because it turns out Matt’s a virgin, too. (What does seem likely to matter is the fact that April doesn’t disclose that she’s not only done the nasty but quite a lot of it.)
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK | Throughout the hour, Jo seems to be trying to discourage herself from getting involved with Alex. “Office romances” never amount to anything, she says, citing his checkered past as ample evidence. In turn, he speaks basically three words: Derek and Meredith. (Can’t argue with that, eh, Jo?) Of course, in the end, we – and Alex – find out that he isn’t the colleague Jo was thinking of dating, it’s some new guy with the nickname Chest Pecwell.
THE OTHER WOMAN | Cristina doesn’t think anything of Alana texting Owen at 3 a.m., but aren’t the rest of us starting to see the writing on the wall? When the nurses threaten to strike, Alana gives Owen the pep talk that he needs to give the nurses the pep talk that they need. He and his reassuring presence, she adds, even gave her the courage that she needed to return to the OR (after choking years ago).
QUITTING TIME | For much of the episode, Derek, Meredith, Callie and Arizona go around and around on the subject of buying Seattle Grace, with Arizona being the primary holdout. But, after she learns that Bailey’s got one foot out the door, she changes her tune to “Where do I sign?” For her part, Cristina laughs (heartily) at the scheme – at first. However, once she realizes that Owen only thinks Pegasus Horizons is the best option because it’s the only option, she gets with the program, too. But wait – surprise! The Fab Five don’t have days to get their ducks lined up after all, they have, like, minutes! The sale is underway! How can they stop it? By resigning, one right after the other. Devastated, Owen demands that Alana salvage the sale – somehow. You have to, he says. And I quote: “You are all that I have now.” (Now do you see the writing on the wall?)
Okay, your turn. What did you think? If you were in Arizona’s shoes, would you have gone along with the plan to buy the hospital from the start? If you were Cristina, would you have quit on Owen? (Wouldn’t the gang’s plan have worked even if she hadn’t quit?) And how dumb of April was it not to be honest with Matt when everybody knows about her fling with Jackson? Sound off below!
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