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Valley girl with rare disease among those helping raise money for children battling similar illnesses

A Valley family struggled for answers as their daughter battled the unknown. Now, they're among those helping raise money for children battling diseases like hers.

PHOENIX — At three years old, Lana Cohen is full of energy. 

Hugging her stuffed panda bear toy, she yells to one of her older brothers to chase her in her family's Arcadia living room. 

"It is a vast improvement," Dara Cohen, Lana's mom says. 

It was a little more than a year ago, when Dara describes her daughter throwing up several times a day, but not in a regular kid virus-of-the-week way. 

"There were days where she was vomiting like up to 10 times where she was dehydrated, where she was in, like true pain in a way that I don't think my husband or I could really comprehend," Dara said. 

The journey started, Dara says, when Lana was about a month old and got mastitis in her breast. Antibiotics were the only option.

"When we gave her the antibiotics, they warned us that, you know, this could affect her gut microbiome. It could maybe lead to allergies or other gut autoimmune issues in the future, but there was also no other course of treatment," Dara said. 

At about seven months old Lana would be diagnosed with anaphylactic food allergies. Eight months later is when Dara says the vomiting started. 

"This was very different," Dara says. "No one could give us an answer." 

As the family was battling the unknown of Lana's illness, Dara recalls sharing what Lana was going through with a new friend. That new friend was on the board of PANDA, which stands for People Acting Now Discover Answers. The all-women board helps fundraise for the University of Arizona Steele Children's Research Center

That friend helped get Lana an appointment with the director there the following week. 

"The minute we walked into the and we met Dr. Ghishan, and his colleague, Dr. Cassell, who's an allergist, everything changed," Dara, who now serves on PANDA's all-volunteer board, said. 

Lana was diagnosed with eosinophilic gastroenteritis. It's a rare autoimmune disease that brings symptoms like vomiting, choking, gagging and stomach pain. 

"It causes inflammation for her from her esophagus, all the way down through her stomach," Dara says. "There is no cure, but it is something that can be you know, monitored, and it can be controlled with a very restrictive diet." 

PANDA is dedicating their annual fundraiser fashion show to help Steele Researchers look into diseases like Lana's, those that occur within the first 1,000 days of life.

"Research surrounding that could potentially help other children not have the same outcomes, and it'll help Lana just be better and stronger going forward," Dara said. 

Lana will be part of the fashion show, walking the runway with her two older brothers, as part of raising money for those who helped her. 

"It's given us hope, it's given us a plan. It gives us a day-to-day regimen that keeps my daughter healthy," Dara said. 

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