GREAT FALLS — February 28th is used to mark Rare Disease Day. It's estimated there are more than 300 million people worldwide living with a rare disease. Corrina Dahlin of Great Falls says she’s been one of those people for more than a decade. But instead of letting her disease define her, she chooses to make a difference for others through advocacy and inspiration.
The 45-year-old wife and mother of three who is a real estate photographer has been living with chronic illnesses, most recently polycystic liver disease.
“I have 40 to 50 cysts on my liver,” said Dahlin.
Polycystic liver disease or PLD is usually genetic; Corrina’s is not. It’s usually not symptomatic, but for Corrina it is.
For severe cases, a liver transplant is an option. In cases like Corrina’s, surgery can be done, and last April, she had part of her liver removed.
“They realized it was two large cysts on the left lobe of the liver that were imposing on the stomach which was why I could only eat two or three bites and be completely full,” said Dahlin.
For Corrina, PLDS was also taking her breath away.
“Realizing this in the middle of a pandemic has been torture,” said Dahlin. “I could not breathe. You put a mask on me and it was like I was coming up out of the water.”
For Corrina, a disabled Navy vet with a fused back, PLD is just one of the chronic illnesses she struggles with. She also suffers from fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Doctors thought the problem might be in her uterus, which they convinced her to have removed.
“Ten years later and I’m not better and I’m getting worse and I thought, well, I’m running out of organs,” said Dahlin.
Corrina says one of the most frustrating aspects of the often-misunderstood disease was finding doctors who took her illness seriously.
“I can’t even express enough the importance of people in healthcare showing just one ounce of compassion,” said Dahlin.
She says she understands how some patients who feel unheard and can develop anxiety and depression on top of their illness. In fact, a lack of care from physicians almost led her down that road. It’s something she’s worked hard to overcome.
“It is mind over matter a lot of the days,” said Dahlin.
Corrina says the VA has been helpful in her battle. Now she wants to help others.
She plans to work with Nourish in Great Falls to establish meals catering to people with chronic illnesses such as IBS.
“The nutritional piece would be that you have a place in town, as a very fatigued chronic patient that you can go to snatch something for dinner,” said Dahlin.
She’ll work with Klover in downtown Great Falls to develop comfortable clothing.
“So we’re going to be working on, collaborating basically on outfits that you’ll feel beautiful in,” said Dahlin.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that Corrina will team up with her lifelong friend and dog breeder Jeannette Forey of 4E Kennels in Nevada; the two grew up together in Alberton near Missoula. They will gift a service dog to someone with a rare disease.
Corrina will call her new business venture “Chronic.” She says while some may look at the name negatively, she wants to change the way people think about the term.
It’s an endeavor that’s garnered strong support from friends and family.
“It’s about resiliency,” said Ryan Dahlin, Corrina’s husband and pilot with the Montana Air National Guard. “It’s about accepting what’s going on but not letting it stop you from getting to where you want to be in life.”