March 28, 2013 06:00 PM

Trae Patton/NBC/NBC/Getty

She’s suited up in Scrubs before but for her return to the emergency room, Sarah Chalke will be channeling her off-screen experiences — specifically, an episode involving her son Charlie Rhodes.

The mom was thrown into the real-life medical realm when, a little over a year after welcoming her first child with fiancé Jamie Afifi, the couple realized something was terribly wrong with their baby boy.

“You present with all these symptoms, you get a lot of repeated misdiagnoses, you keep getting sent home [by doctors],” Chalke, 36, tells TVLine.

For 10 days Chalke spent time online researching her son’s medical mystery — until she found a site complete with a checklist of many of Charlie’s symptoms.

The diagnosis? Kawasaki disease, an illness that causes inflammation in a child’s blood vessels.

However, with the treatment plan window only open for approximately 10 days — those who don’t receive it have a one in four chance of developing heart disease — Chalke was determined to find a doctor willing to treat her sick son.

“We fought really hard to see a specialist, but got the treatment on day 10½,” she says. “It was on the late side, but thank God Charlie is okay.”

Once the family recovered from the serious scare, Chalke began seeking out ways to educate parents on the perils of the disease, including participating in a PSA that will air at the end of one of the most public platforms possible: a guest appearance on Grey’s Anatomy.

Airing Thursday, the actress will portray a mother who fights for a diagnosis for her child suffering from Kawasaki disease. Reliving her experience on set hit close to home for Chalke, who shares scenes with fellow mom Ellen Pompeo.

“As an actor, you’re usually like, ‘Will I be able to cry when I’m supposed to cry?’ But this is more like, ‘Will I be able to stop crying when I have to stop crying?'” Chalke shares.

“I didn’t know what that experience was going to be like, to hold a baby that was made up to look like [now 3-year-old] Charlie did at that time.”

Calling it “the most challenging thing” she’s ever done, Chalke admits the final outcome was “a really good experience,” and is hopeful her time spent onscreen will save lives.

“The Kawasaki doctor we dealt with said they do a news story every year, and often that saves lives,” she explains. “She said that this [Grey’s Anatomy] episode absolutely is going to save lives. It’s going to save some kids.”

— Anya Leon

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