More than 15 years ago, Buddy Little worked for a company that made Christmas donations to charities to honor employees.
Little chose the Charlotte office of the Lupus Foundation of America, at the time a small local group that had never had a fundraiser. Little’s sisters, Donna Reddel and Sonia Barber, had been diagnosed with the disease, and he wanted to help.
The foundation called Little, asking why he donated money. After further discussions, he and his brother Eric Little agreed to organize a golf tournament fundraiser in Ballantyne.
Fifteen years later, the golf tournament is still going strong, and the Charlotte-based Lupus Foundation chapter now has four employees and represents the entire state.
“That makes us proud,” Buddy Little said Aug. 31 at the 15th annual Links for Lupus tournament at Cedarwood Country Club. “It gives you a good feeling that you’ve helped.
“It’s something we can do for our sisters and all people who have lupus because it’s such a devastating disease.”
This year’s tournament, which fielded 120 golfers, was expected to raise about $50,000.
The Little family was honored before tee off.
It’s something we can do for our sisters and all people who have lupus because it’s such a devastating disease.
Lupus, which is referred to as a “cruel mystery,” is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints and internal organs.
It strikes mostly women, who are typically diagnosed between ages 15 and 44. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, headaches, joint pain, fever and anemia.
The Lupus Foundation estimates that about 10,000 people in the Charlotte area and about 45,000 statewide have been diagnosed with lupus.
Barber, 51, was diagnosed while she was a student at Appalachian State University playing volleyball on scholarship.
“It was not easy because I had a lot of fatigue,” she said. The tiredness and joint pain eventually forced her to quit working as an aerobics instructor.
Reddel, 53, was diagnosed at age 35 and also is a former aerobics instructor. She now is a yoga instructor at a community college in Jamestown.
“I teach yoga because I can’t do what I used to do,” she said.
She said others often won’t know if someone has lupus.
“Lupus looks different in every person,” she said. “A lot of times you look healthy, but you’re struggling with joint issues and fatigue.”
Bill Little, founder of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting in Charlotte and father of Sonia, Donna, Eric and Buddy, helped start the tournament because his daughters are living with lupus.
He died two years ago, but his wife Earline Little continues to attend the tournament.
Local efforts to raise awareness of lupus and help families struggling with the disease began in the late 1970s, when lupus patients in the area ran a support group. They were an extension of the Winston-Triad Chapter of the Lupus Foundation, and in 1986 the group formed a separate chapter based in Charlotte.
In 1999, one support group met sporadically in Charlotte, but they did no local fundraising until the first Links for Lupus golf tournament in September 2000.
The chapter also saw an important leadership change that began an era of growth with help from Links for Lupus, which was bringing in local funding to the chapter. In 2013, the Lupus Foundation of America, North Carolina Chapter began representing the entire state.
The group runs a hotline and educational seminars, provides information about lupus to patients, families and doctors, and supports events that raise awareness of lupus and those who are affected by it, said Christine John-Fuller, CEO and president of LFANC.
LFANC also supports national research into finding a cure and treatment. A number of drugs, both old and new, are being studied as treatments, according to the Lupus Foundation.
“Without the vision and support of Bill Little, his family and his company, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, our chapter would not have had the foundational financial support it needed to survive and grow into the organization it is today,” John-Fuller said.
Marty Minchin is a freelance reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about lupus and about LFANC, visit www.lupusnc.org or search for “Lupus NC” on Facebook.