Todd French, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Benjamin Banneker Elementary and coach of the Milford High School soccer team, says that he was perfectly healthy until he was not. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with a rare illness known as sarcoidosis. Since the disease is so rare, it is difficult to diagnose and very little funding is provided for research or cures.
“There is no cure and no explanation for why I ended up getting this,” Mr. French said. “It is an auto-immune disorder that affects different organs of the body. It creates granules that build up and interfere with the function of the organ. Mine is in my heart so it is much more serious than if it had attacked a different organ. Not only is the disease rare, but it is also rare for it to affect the heart. In fact, only ten percent of people who get the disease get it in their heart.” Mr. French said that he began having heart palpitations and developed an irregular heartbeat. Once he had to be shocked to put his heart back into a normal rhythm.
According to the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, sarcoidosis normally attacks the lungs and lymph nodes, but has been found in skin, eyes, liver, salivary glands, sinuses, kidneys, heart, muscles, bones and brain. It has also been found in the nervous system. There is no known cause for the illness, but some researchers believe that it could be a bacteria, virus or chemicals that trigger its development. The triggers may be minor in most people, but for those prone to the auto-immune disorder, it could lead to the inflammation associated with sarcoidosis.
Mr. French said that he wanted to come up with a way to raise money for research into the disease. He approached Ed Evans, who coaches soccer alongside French, as well as the team to see what they could do as a fund raiser. They thought about a donation each time they scored a goal, but that did not seem feasible. They made the decision to create shirts with the team logo as well as the National Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research logo. In addition, they added the team motto “Play with Heart,” tying in not only the team’s motto but the struggle faced by their coach.
“We are asking for donations at our games, starting with our Alumni Game on Saturday, October 15,” Mr. French said. “Anyone who donates $20 or more will receive one of the shirts.” Mr. French, who also handles the Banneker Honor Society, said that another fund raiser may be created for the elementary school students so that they can participate.
Mr. French said that he has undergone several surgeries and had a defibrillator implanted to regulate his heartbeat. He said the granules build up in his heart and cause his heart to beat irregularly, so the defibrillator helps adjust the rhythm. Other surgeries have used lasers in order to burn some of the lesions, a surgery with significant risk and potential complications. He also takes a significant amount of medication, such as steroids and heart regulation medication to keep his heart rhythm normal and reduce the amount of inflammation that builds up in his system.
Symptoms for sarcoidosis vary depending on which organ is affected. When it affects the lungs, people may notice shortness of breath, a cough that will not go away while skin involvement symptoms may include discoloration of the cheeks, nose or ears, brown, painless skin patches or painful red bumps on the legs or arms. Mr. French said that he also has the granules in his liver and lymph nodes, but that they were not causing significant problems like those in his heart.
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