- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

Drenching storms didn’t put a damper on festivities — or the bottom line — at the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) benefit Tuesday night.

The group’s Champions to Champions Awards Gala at the Ritz-Carlton featured decadent drinks and delicious food in a setting decorated with metal butterflies, the symbol of the nonprofit organization dedicated to finding the cause and a cure for lupus. (The skin rash caused by the disease is similar to a butterfly in shape.)

Annette Shelby, co-chair of the event’s honorary congressional committee, told guests that the first time she heard about lupus was 18 years ago and the first braces she saw were her own.

Mrs. Shelby is one of 1.5 million Americans with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, kidneys and brain.

“I’m here tonight because of modern medicine, because of the support from my family, because of the grace of God,” she said.

Debbie Dingell, the other congressional co-chair, joined the LFA to support Mrs. Shelby and to help raise awareness of the disease.

“It was something I could do for a friend,” said Mrs. Dingell, a strong supporter of studies to discover if therapy using stem cells can produce long-term remission for patients with severe lupus.

The research is “a great promise for all autoimmune diseases,” said Mrs. Shelby’s husband, Sen. Richard Shelby, who commended the Bush administration for providing federal funding for research conducted on 60 existing lines of embryonic stem cells.

Two well-known fashion models also captured the attention of the 400-strong crowd that helped raise $600,000, nearly double the proceeds from last year.

“It’s difficult to watch anyone you love” suffer from lupus, said Tomiko Fraser, an International Ford Agency model and caregiver for her sister, who has the disease. She was joined by Mercedes Yvette, an “America’s Next Top Model” runner-up who has lupus.

LFA honored the absent Laura Bush with the Women’s Health Leadership Award and Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, with the Research and Education Award. Lana and Richard Cooper accepted the Leadership Award on behalf of the Cooper Family Foundation. F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. received the Corporate Leadership Award.

Kathleen Arntsen, who sported a butterfly tattoo and butterfly barrette in her long, red hair, remarked on the similarities between humans suffering and the delicate insect’s struggle to survive.

“Patients are fragile in a complex medical world, and yet we survive with persistence,” Mrs. Arntsen said.

— Shelley Widhalm

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