"I have lupus...take a look, this is what lupus looks like," declared Grammy Award winning artist Toni Braxton, as she accepted the Women In Achievement Award from Lupus LA at the annual Hollywood Ladies Bag Ladies luncheon and Fendi Fashion Show, Nov. 16 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Braxton surprised the crowd of over 600 people, revealing publicly for the first time that she suffers from Lupus. "I'm a Lupus survivor, she added, as she accepted her award, surrounded by her sisters and Mom. Braxton brought the oversold crowd to its feet as she continued to declare her support of Lupus LA and the need for research as there is no cure for Lupus. Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe, (The Rachel Zoe Project) was also honored with the Women in Achievement Award, for her business innovation, empowering young women to meet new challenges in their lives. Lupus LA works closely with the Hollywood community (and the many celebrities who have Lupus but are reluctant to speak out because they cannot get medical insurance on film and TV projects) to raise awareness of the importance of finding new treatments and managing this disease with demanding careers.
"Seeing Toni Braxton speak publicly for the first time about her Lupus was an extremely proud moment for Lupus LA. Her bravery will help many people who suffer from lupus know that they are not alone in their fight," said Adam Selkowitz, Chairman of Lupus LA.
Lupus affects 1.5 million people, attacks the immune system, causing pain, inflammation and tissue damage anywhere in the body. Over 90 percent of those affected are women, with African-Americans four times more likely to get Lupus than Caucasians. Lupus is America's least known major disease, yet is more common than Cerebral Palsy, MS and Cystic Fibrosis combined and is the leading cause of stroke, heart and kidney disease among young women. The number of patients diagnosed with Lupus is increasing yearly, especially among children and young people. If we can unlock the cause of Lupus and treat it effectively, it will open the door for treatment of many other diseases as well. (Full disclosure: my sister suffers from Lupus and I am on the Board of Lupus LA).
At the precise moment Braxton was revealing her struggle with lupus, the FDA's Advisory Panel was meeting in Washington, DC to back the approval of the first drug in 50 years, Benlysta, to benefit those who suffer from Lupus. The panel voted 13 to two to approve the drug, a collaboration of Human Genome Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline PLC, who have been developing the drug and will be marketing it. The FDA is expected to make a decision by early December.
Lupus LA participated in the clinical trials of Benlysta, as Dr. Daniel Wallace, Founder of Lupus LA and the country's leading lupus expert, had a number of patients responding to the drug. "This is a great day for Lupus awareness," said Dr. Wallace at the event, before he left early to fly to Amsterdam where results from yet another lupus drug were about to be released.
Spotted in the crowd bidding on classic vintage handbags and this season's hottest exclusive bags from all luxury designers were Janice Arouh, President of Marketing and Distribution for ES Studios (last year's Women in Achievement winner), Hanna Pantle, BMI, Mary Deckebach, First Republic Bank, Teri Melkonian, Sunset Gower Studios, Ali Hillis (Miami Medical), Meredith Monroe (NCIS), Kimberly Elise (For Colored Girls), Shante Broadus (Snoop Dogg's Fatherhood, and most recent Board Member), Brittny Gastineau (The Gastineau Girls), Lisa Gastineau, Laura Tunberg, Silicon Valley content guru, Salaam Coleman-Smith, President The Style Network, Carolyn Folks, ES Entertainment (Bryon Allen's Mom) Carol Perrin, entertainment attorney, Molly O'Brien, Senator Feinstein's office, Lori Selkowitz, Ali Fedotowsky (ABC's The Bachelorette), Julie Benz (No Ordinary Family), Rebecca Mader (Lost), Melissa Stone, The Style Network, Stacy Van Praagh, President of Fendi US, Tod Hallman, THP Fashion, Vicky Goodman, President, Friends of the Semel Institute, Cathy Kellner-Diaz, Mendelson-Zion, Carrie Brillstein, Dr. Renee Rinaldi, Chairman, Lupus LA Medical Advisory Board, and Board members Debbie and Roger Cowan, Kathy Gallagher, Janis Wallace, Michelle and Alan Kaye, Dorothy Ellis (who secured Prada as next year's Bag Ladies event sponsor) and from New York, Dory Nilenger and Arthur and Betsey Selkowitz.
Celebrities donating handbags included Jennifer Aniston, Molly Sims, Rachael Zoe, Shante Broadus, Tori Spelling, Kelly Martin, Molly Sims, Sharon Stone, Paris Hilton, Carol Bayer Sager, Natalie Portman, Melissa Joan Hart, Julie Benz, Zoe Seldana, Eva La Rue, KISS and Ali Fedotowsky. Proceeds from the event topped $300,000 all going to Lupus Research.
"I am extremely proud of all those who worked so hard at Lupus LA to make our Hollywood Bag Ladies lunch a terrific success," said Linda David, Executive Director of Lupus LA. "Congratulations to Rachel Zoe and Toni Braxton for their outstanding contributions to Lupus LA."