PORTSMOUTH, Va. — From New York to Hollywood and beyond, prayers are being offered for veteran actor and director Denise Dowse.

According to her sister Tracey, the 1981 graduate of Norfolk State University is fighting for her life in Los Angeles after contracting viral meningitis. Tracey shared the diagnosis on Facebook over the weekend.

Tracey tells Nexstar’s WAVY that her sister’s illness started in July as a headache; she slipped into a coma on July 18, and doctors confirmed the diagnosis on July 21.

Actor and director Joe James of Norfolk, who starred with Dowse in the Southeastern Virginia Arts Association & Stage Norfolk production “Hiram and Nettie” in 2005, was stunned to read the update on Facebook.

“I stopped in my tracks, I had to sit down and I said to myself ‘I just saw her picture come across my thread and this can’t be, this cannot be’,” lamented James from his home in New York.

“Denise is just one of those spirits and when she walks into a room she just lights it up,” said James.

Terrance Afer-Anderson directed the play “Hiram and Nettie,” and now he’s leading the online plea for prayers.

“People all over the country are praying for Denise,” said Afer-Anderson.

Dowse was the talk of the town at Norfolk State. Under the direction of the late Robert Wynn-Jackson, Dowse played the lead role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

“I remember that like it was yesterday; it was one of her favorite roles,” said sister Tracey Dowse from the home she shares with Denise in Los Angeles.

More than 100 other roles have made Dowse a constant on the big screen, on the small screen, and on Broadway.

Notable roles include appearing as the principal of a high school in the movie “Coach Carter,” a judge in the television show “Law and Order,” and two roles in the television show “Beverly Hills, 90210.” She recently completed a director role in the film “Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story.”

As the prayers continue, Nexstar’s WAVY asked Tracey what advice Denise would offer to aspiring actors and directors.

“If this is your dream, keep going to what you have to do to live, but keep at it and it will eventually pay off,” said Tracey who is a life coach.

Tracey says her family believes in prayer and they pray Denise will return for another act in show business.