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'It was something I never imagined' | How this Atlanta school is helping a mom smile again

Natasha Elliot has been losing her teeth as she tries to treat lupus.

ATLANTA — Natasha Elliot loves the energy, vibrance and feeling connected in her neighborhood. She said the school is at the center of it all.

“Our community in East Atlanta and Reynoldstown show that they care about each other and our school,” David White said.

White is the principal of Burgess Peterson Academy, a place where Elliot says she found an extension of family. Her kids have grown up there.

“My youngest is in third grade here and loves it," she said.

Elliott and her kids have needed the care they have found at the school especially as the mother navigates a difficult diagnosis.

“The reality for me is that I’m in constant pain,” Elliott said.

Elliott battles lupus, an autoimmune disease. Over the years, she noticed a growing contrast between the energy and life around the school and how drained she felt.

“I want to have energy and to smile again,” she said. “I want to be happy.”

In addition to all she is going through, her medication is causing an unexpected side effect - she is losing her teeth.

“I could eat a sandwich and my teeth would break," she explained. "It got so bad for me, and I was so embarrassed.”

Elliot's front teeth are fake and she doesn't have any at the bottom. She's also lacking teeth in the back.

It’s stolen her confidence. 

She was once known for her bright smile but says she’s too self-conscious now to share it.

“I’m probably going to tear up talking about it because it was something I never imagined,” she cried. “Being a young mom, I didn’t think this disease would do that to me.”

And the mounting dental bills are devastating. She learned the cost to replace all the teeth she’s lost was a crushing total. 

“I can’t afford $68,000 to smile again," she said. “I broke that day.”

Her Burgess family stepped in. One of the parents set up a fundraiser to help cover her dental costs. 

“A parent decided ‘hey I know what you are going through, and I want to help you,'” Elliot said, adding she was amazed.

White said its no surprise to see the school community rally behind Elliot in this way.

“When we ask for help and let people know there is an opportunity to help, not only do we get the support we need but we give others an opportunity to give back which feeds their spirit; it’s a win-win," White said.

White says the school is stronger for it. Elliott is, too.

“To share my story, to be a testimony for other people, be able to share their story - I’m here for it," she said. “Hopefully that can help someone else share their story."

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