March 28, 2013 10:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Grey's Anatomy's' Sarah Chalke on Using Her Family's Pain for Other Parents' Gain
Sarah Chalke heads to ABC's Grey's Anatomy this week for an episode that is inspired by her real-life experiences in dealing with her son's Kawasaki Disease.
KD, which is often misdiagnosed in children and infants, involves an inflammation of the blood vessels through the body that is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children.
After struggling -- and fighting -- to have her young son, Charlie, correctly diagnosed and treated, Chalke decided to open up about her family's ordeal and speak at a November fundraiser for KD, where her experience with other parents eventually led to a meeting with Grey's Anatomy's Shonda Rhimes.
"Something pretty crazy happened the moment I started shooting: I got an email from my Kawasaki doctor, and she received an email from a patient's mother who had cast a triplet to play my son -- it was a four-year-old, and one of them had KD a year ago," Chalke tells The Hollywood Reporter, calling the email a sign that she was meant to film the episode after initially wondering if she could handle the personal assignment. "It was a complete coincidence; casting didn't know; the mom didn't know when she accepted the part."
The former Scrubs star says she pitched the episode to Rhimes and company with one stipulation. "The one thing that was important to me was that the symptoms would be mentioned and shown so that as a parent when you're watching, you're able to see the symptoms and have this visual trigger," she says.
The hour, fittingly titled "Can't Fight This Feeling," centers on Chalke's single mother who, like the actress did in her life, is insisting there's something more going on with her child.
"What I loved about this story was it tells a very common KD experience, so that a parent might be able to relate to it or see the symptoms," she says. "After experiencing it, there's a message to parents: Fight for your kid, don't be scared to get a second, third, sixth opinion or go into an ER and put your foot down. That's certainly how I felt in my experience."
For Chalke, the episode marks her latest effort to use entertainment to educate, inform and entertain. The actress was among the star-studded cast to film "Prop 8 -- The Musical" for Funny Or Die, in which she played a "Scary Catholic School Girl From Hell."
"That's the best part of being in this business; the Prop 8 musical is one of the things I was most proud of. [Marriage inequality] is one of the biggest injustices in the world and it has to change," Chalke says. "It's so cool when people can come together and use it to make a difference for good, and that was the reason behind doing Grey's Anatomy. To be able to reach people, and if one parent can watch and one kid gets saved, it would be more than worth it. "
"When you go through something, it's not what happens to you in your life, it's how you deal with it," she adds. "It was such a traumatic, hard thing and we had to pull something good out of this; there had to be a reason why this happened."
For more on Kawasaki Disease, head to KDFundation.org. Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.