Thyroid : Autoimmune Disease Awareness

Patty Guerra

It only took a hug for Sarah Mascorro to figure out something was wrong with her little boy.

"I noticed his heartbeat was pumping really fast," she said. Her son, Andrew, went through a series of tests that eventually found his thyroid was extremely overactive.

That was 14 years ago, and Andrew subsequently has been diagnosed with a series of afflictions that affect his autoimmune system: Graves', Hashimoto's and, most recently, Addison's disease, which attacks the adrenal gland.

None of it stopped Andrew, now 16.

"It doesn't keep me from doing what I want to do," he said. That includes playing games and hanging out with his family.

Those games include the typical teen-boy variety of hit-em-up, smash-em-up video games, but also the more traditional variety, including baseball with his dad, Mike, and 15-year-old brother, Alexx.

"If he gets tired, we just rest for a bit and then we get back at it again," Mike said.

Through all his tests and diagnosis, Andrew has maintained a positive outlook.

"He's got a great attitude," Sarah said. "He always says, 'It could be worse.' "

Over the years, Sarah said, she's learned much about autoimmune diseases, including how rare they are. She said she diagnosed the symptoms of Addison's and had to badger doctors to test Andrew for it.

Among them, curiously, is a great tan.

"He said, 'Mom, how come my left arm is so much darker than my right arm?' " Sarah said. Sure enough, it was true. Addison's turns the skin darker, particularly around the joints. "It was a gorgeous tan. He looked like he had just come back from Hawaii."

In an effort to raise awareness of autoimmune diseases -- and money for the organization that helps with research and patient services -- Sarah is organizing an Autoimmune Disease Walk in Turlock on Saturday.

It's the first year the Autoimmune Disease Association is sponsoring walks. Nationally, three events are planned in the next few months, in Washington, D.C.; Evanston, Ill.; and New York City. Virtual walks are being held in other locations; Sarah said she decided to do one of those after being invited to take part in New York's.

Mike -- known to most as "Buddha" -- has a team from Wal-Mart, where he works. Other friends have expressed interest, and the family has pasted fliers around town, seeking support for Team Dragonfly. That's Andrew's team, named for the nickname his family has bestowed on him as the "Dragonfly Whisperer."

"He attracts dragonflies wherever he goes," Sarah said. "They land on his hand, his arm, sometimes his nose."

The day coincides with the Love Turlock event organized by several churches for good deeds throughout town.

"They gave us a spot on their Web site, and they're going to barbecue for all the walkers that day," Sarah said.

The family will be out at the park all day, walking as much as they can. That includes Andrew, who for now said he feels pretty good, though he's had some twitching muscles that have him undergoing more medical tests.

The Mascorros hope to make the walk an annual event that grows every year.

"Let's see what happens that day," Mike said. "But it always starts with one."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or (209) 578-2343.

(c)2012 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

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