Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series covering one Marceline family hoping to make Linn County citizens more aware of a potentially deadly disease and their fight to keep their daughter alive.

May 29 would change the lives of the Watson family in Marceline forever, as they tried desperately to keep their youngest child alive.

“When I saw her in the hospital, I thought she was going to die,” Juanita Watson said. “When they took her to the MRI, I went to the chapel.”

Juanita and Danny Watson have raised their two daughters Tiffany and Brittany in Marceline with the motto, “family first.” The close-knit group jokes with each other, plays games and enjoys the company of each other.

The youngest Watson, Tiffany was born at 26 weeks and weighed just over two pounds. Even though being born prematurely, Tiffany had no serious signs of disease, or health problems. The doctors told Juanita that Tiffany would never gain a lot of weight, but that she was healthy given the circumstances.

According to Tiffany’s father Danny Watson, Tiffany was tiny.

“[Tiffany’s] fingers were no bigger around, than the tines on a fork when she was born,” Watson said.

Tiffany is now 10-years-old and lives a somewhat normal life. Normal until April 22 of this year anyway.

According to Tiffany’s mother Juanita Watson, Tiffany started to act strange.

“Tiffany kept getting worse, throwing up, until she became unresponsive,” Watson said. “I knew something was wrong.”

Tiffany was rushed to Pershing Memorial Hospital and was given treatment. She was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Starting the next day, Watson monitored Tiffany’s weight and documented everything she ate.

Although Tiffany initially gained some weight, she started to go downhill fast. Tiffany was on a diet of clear broth, water, bananas, toast and crackers, but still could not keep anything down. Over the course the next few weeks Tiffany kept getting worse and was not acting like herself.

The morning of May 29 Tiffany hit rock-bottom. Tiffany began the day by complaining of a headache, something unusual for the child. Later the same day, Tiffany was continuously throwing up until she started to exhibit signs of a stroke.

The Watsons first visited Samaritan Hospital in Macon, Mo. After a brief stay, the Watsons made their way to Womens and Childrens Hospital in Columbia. There, the Watsons had trouble being admitted while Tiffany was unresponsive and choking on her own saliva.

Watson says she felt like hope was lost.

“They lifted up her arm, nothing,” Watson said. “They lifted up her leg, nothing. She was completely unresponsive. When I saw her in the hospital, I thought she was going to die. When they took her to the MRI, I went to the chapel.”

On a last ditch effort, Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. life-flighted Tiffany across the state. There, Tiffany was given life-saving treatment to stabilize her condition. Eventually, Tiffany was in a stable condition, but the doctors and the Watsons were baffled. What could be causing all of this distress?

The doctors finally learned, stress was what had affected Tiffany so much. After just one night in Children’s Mercy, Tiffany’s doctor, Dr. Francesco De Luca, diagnosed her with Addison’s Disease, the answer the family was looking for. Addison’s Disease is characterized by an acute adrenal insufficiency. When the body is stressed the adrenal glands secrete hormones to stabilize the body. If the adrenals are not working properly, people may experience fatigue, weight loss, nausea, or decreased appetite according to the Mayo Clinic.

Tiffany would go on to stay two weeks at Children’s Mercy, six days in the pediatric intensive care unit and the remaining time in a regular hospital room. Her parents and sister temporarily moved to Kansas City to make sure everything was okay. Tiffany was put on steroids and doses of hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone, the latter being two drugs she will need to take for the rest of her life.

When the Watsons returned to Marceline, they were in a different world.

“Nothing was familiar when we got home,” Watson said. “We’ve been taking it one day at a time.”

According to Tiffany, she is glad to have her family on her side.

“It helped me a lot to have my family with me,” Tiffany said. “It was very scary at first.”

Tiffany continued.

“Taking medicine is a bit annoying, but I’m happy there’s something I can do,” Tiffany said.

According to Watson, she cannot believe how healthy her daughter is.

“Tiffany is actually gaining weight now, it’s a miracle,” Watson said. “[Tiffany] is a completely different child, for the better. It blows my mind just to see her eat. Once they found out she had Addison’s everything has been better.”

In the next chapter, we’ll focus on what may have triggered the disease in Tiffany and warning signs of the disease to look out for.