Pa. educator battling liver disease raises awareness in community

WARMINSTER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "This was a difficult journey for me," said Shawanna James-Coles. "But I am so grateful that I was chosen for this journey."

It was only a few months ago in April 2021 when James-Coles' bloodwork came back with alarming results. After further analysis, it was discovered she suffered from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with stage 3 fibrosis.

"My first question was, am I going to die," she said, "Because I'm a mom of two children. I'm a wife."

Before she knew it, fellow faculty members were coming up with creative ways to stand beside her. They organized a t-shirt fundraiser with a design that reads, "Her fight is my fight," on the front and, "#TeamShawanna," on the back. Proceeds are being directed to the American Liver Foundation and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"To see the love and support I received across the district, it's my motivation," said James-Coles. "It gives me hope."

She lost 46 pounds since her diagnosis, embracing a healthy lifestyle that she hopes to encourage among people of all ages.

"We have to be mindful of what we're putting in our bodies and how it impacts our body," she said.

James-Coles kept her diagnosis private over the summer. But as she conducted research about liver disease, she learned that it affects even children. This inspired her to engage children within Bucks County's Centennial School District.

Being the school district's Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Education, she coalesced a wide range of students to brainstorm ways to raise awareness.

"We're going to start getting together a collective group. We're going to be pulling journals from scholarly sources. We want to come up with things to add to our newsletter for our families to have healthier options in their daily life," said Taylor Simononis, a senior at William Tennent High School. "We're going to try to do some fundraising events. We're going to try to really make this focal in our community."

All of the students tapped to be part of the focus group speak highly of the educator they are working so hard to support. In fact, James-Coles previously served as their principal while many attended area elementary schools.

"Mrs. Coles has given me so many opportunities to have a voice and help with change moving along in the district," said 12th-grade student Xavier Desrosiers. "I'm very appreciative of my position I've been given."

Other community members will gather this Sunday morning to strut and stroll to stomp out liver disease in honor of Shawanna James-Coles. The first annual event will take place at 8:00am at Miles Park Pavilion in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. Attendees are encouraged to wear green, the color of liver disease awareness.

To learn more information, visit the website for the American Liver Foundation.

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