When well-known comedian and actor Bernie Mac passed away in 2008, he left a legacy that is still very much alive, said his widow, Rhonda McCullough.
In 1983, Mac was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that attacks the body’s organs, usually the lungs and lymph nodes. There is no cure. He and his wife founded the Bernie Mac Foundation in 2007. Mac wanted to create a place for Chicago patients to learn more about the disease. The Bernie Mac Sarcoidosis Translational Advance Research (STAR) Center at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System dedicates its time to learning more about Sarcoidosis in order to one day find a cure.
The Bernie Mac Foundation Health Awareness Day is Wednesday, 12pm-1pm. Attendees will learn about Sarcoidosis. It will take place at the James R. Thompson Center, Lower level. McCullough and Secretary of State Jesse White will be some of the special guests.
For those who can’t make that, there is another option. The 3rd Annual Bernie Mac STAR Center Town Hall meeting will happen Thursday, where researchers will share the latest treatment advances. The event is free and open to the public. The Bernie Mac STAR Center is producing top research in the nation on Sarcoidosis. Patients without insurance are treated because Mac didn’t want anyone to be turned away.
“I want them to know the vision we have is to provide hope, particularly for those who don’t have access to care,” said McCullough.
Before Mac was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, McCullough said that neither of them were familiar with it. He was 27 years-old then and the couple had been married for a few years already.
“We didn’t know, so I started educating myself when Bernard was diagnosed,” said McCullough.
“I remember when he was diagnosed, I remember the doctor telling us there is no known treatment for it, no known cure, so at this point, if it’s not bothering you, don’t bother it,” she said.
Sarcoidosis disproportionately targets African-Americans, usually during the reproductive years, said Dr. Nadera Sweiss, STAR Center program director.
She said it tends to affect women more than men and that most people don’t even know they have it. Researchers are still learning about it, but they do say that the environment plays a role. Since the disease commonly affects the lungs, some common symptoms are shortness of breath. Wheezing, coughing and chest pains are common. It can also interrupt a person’s normal eyesight, she said. Sometimes patients have no symptoms.
“A lot of times, the disease is silent and goes on for many years,” said Sweiss. If that’s the case, doctors can still check a patient’s lymph nodes for tenderness.
Sweiss said that even though there is no cure, doctors can make life for patients better.
When they visit the center, they are educated on the disease and shown how to live healthier lives.
“Patients should have hope that there is a bright future,” she said. “A lot of researchers have come together to get more research in the area and we want to find a cure for the disease.”