TAMPA (FOX 13) - A hereditary medical condition that can lead to psychological and emotional issues has led a Bay Area woman to start a support group.
Singing brings great joy to Tonja Johnson. It also brings her much-needed relief from inner pain caused by vitiligo.
"For most people, they go into a depression," said Tonja. "They think suicidal because it is that type of disease. I can cover my arms but when it got to my face it was hard to cover."
Vitiligo is an auto-immune disease. The body attacks the pigment in a person's skin, changing dark skin into white patches.
"When I first got vitiligo I thought it was a death sentence because my skin begins to turn white and I was like, 'What in the world is happening to me?'" Tonja said.
Tonja was diagnosed five years ago. She looked for a support group but came up empty. So she decided to start Beautifully Unblemished Vitiligo Support Group. Now the group has 12 members.
"Very important to have a support system because those people you can rely on, you can talk to, you can ask questions. It's like a family," Tonja said.
Because there is no cure, Tonja believes it's important to educate people about the disease.
"It's hard going to the store, going into the malls, you know? You get all the people that stare at you, so now is the time to try and educate," Tonja said.
More than 5 million people in the U.S. have the immune disorder. For more information about the condition, visit vitfriends.org