The San Diego Cystic Fibrosis Foundation reflects on last April’s Ladies Luncheon at the Hilton La Jolla and the continued fight to find a cure.
On April 18th, The San Diego Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Fifth Annual Ladies Luncheon, had the distinct honor of dedicating the second annual “Leslie Petrone Hopkins Women Who Take Our Breath Away Awards” to six deserving women in memory of one of the chapter’s most vibrant members. Leslie Petrone passed away last October after battling cystic fibrosis for nearly five decades.
When Leslie was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, her parents were told not to expect her to live much beyond the age of seven. Leslie was only four at the time. Leslie’s mom, Julie Johnson who spoke at the Luncheon remembers the doctor even pulled her aside and advised her to tell Leslie’s teachers. “That way they will be extra nice to Leslie.” In other words, Julie was told to take her baby home to die.
Cystic fibrosis is the nation’s leading chronic, progressive and fatal genetic disease. Affecting approximately 30,000 individuals in the United States (70,000 worldwide), the current life expectancy is only 37. Basically, a faulty protein impedes the transfer of sodium and chloride channel in the cells of the organs. As a result, thick, sticky mucous builds up in the lungs causing inflammation, chronic infections and irreversible lung damage. It also blocks the enzymes that are naturally secreted in the pancreas to break down and digest food causing malabsorption and malnutrition.
At the time of Leslie’s diagnosis, the prognosis for someone living with CF was very grim. However, Leslie had other plans. Despite the odds, she flourished. Leslie attended college, dedicated herself to an award-winning career and married the love of her life. She was a fighter, attacking life and her disease with courage, grace and heart. Leslie’s spirit is represented in the six women who received an award in her honor:
- Karena Richer is no stranger to the devastating effects of cystic fibrosis. She is determined to cure the disease for her beautiful three-year-old daughter. She raised over $12,000 last spring at the CF Foundation’s largest fundraiser (“Great Strides”) and generously donates proceeds from her business (“Thirty One” bags) to CF medical research. Like Leslie, Karena nurturing soul touches everyone who is lucky enough to know her.
- Nicole Moughan is another courageous CF mother. With every word and every deed, she shows her incredible dedication to her son, Justin. And her spirit is contagious. Last year, Nicole inspired a good friend to join her in her efforts and together they raised over $10,000 through a Hallmark Store campaign. Despite living with CF, Nicole always remains positive. Just like Leslie, Nicole inspires us with her ability to always believe.
- Sherri Cherman is a pharmacist and a CF patient advocate. Passionate, warm and determined, she exudes the qualities of a woman that takes your Breath Away. She is constantly described as someone who lifts up the people around her and encourages them to be better. Every day she teaches colleges and friends to listen, ask questions and create a plan to move forward. Like Leslie, she encourages those around her to live their lives with passion and commitment.
- Janet Carruthers is lovingly referred to as the “swiss army knife.” As the clinic dietician at the UCSD adult CF clinic, she has a remarkable talent for tackling any project that comes her way. Over the last 5-6 years, she has spearheaded creative new ways to improve the health of her patient’s nutritional status. In all aspects of her career, Janet is dedicated, hard-working and possesses a can do attitude. Like Leslie, she possesses a larger-than-life personality and drive to succeed.
- From the day her daughter, Cadence was diagnosed, Shannon Dulawan has been committed to the cause. She has helped raise over $50,000 over the last several years. She and her husband Todd host private fundraisers and Shannon is always available to support her team, Cadence Crew, and the CFF raise awareness to help find a cure for her family. Like Leslie, Shannon takes our breath away with her stamina, patience and commitment.
- Finally, this year, the CFF added a new category (“Commitment to the Cure”) for a woman who has dedicated nearly 20 years of her professional life to cystic fibrosis. Yoly Perez serves as the nurse coordinator for the pediatric CF clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital. Yet, after hours, she volunteers her personal time to serve on fundraiser committees and participate in foundation events, including Great Strides and CF Cycle for Life. Like Leslie, Yoly is a true hero.
Sitting in the audience and listening to these beautiful and brave women being compared to Leslie, it was hard for me not to become emotional. I looked around the room, positive that Leslie would make her presence known in some extraordinary way. After all, Leslie was larger than life in the real world. Certainly, she would give some grand and tangible sign. However, in death, Leslie showed herself subtly in all the small details of the afternoon. She was in the smiles and the laughter. She was in the tears shed in her memory. She was in the $30,000 raised for CF medical research. And she was in the quiet moments of friends enjoying an afternoon together. A fitting memorial. And a beautiful legacy.
In Leslie’s memory, the CF Foundation now has six new ambassadors. Karena, Nicole, Sherri, Janet, Shannon and Yoly not only represent all that Leslie stood for, they carry forward all the hopes and dreams that she envisioned for herself. Leslie charged through life with strength, courage and sheer grit. But, she softened our hearts with her warmth, kindness and unwavering sense of faith. She was the living, breathing embodiment of her own mantra: Believe Anything is Possible. Leslie never stopped believing. And in her honor, the CF Foundation will continue to keep on fighting. Proving that a disease that steals away one’s breath in slow, caustic steps, can also leave us breathless with all the hope, love and support showcased in one beautiful afternoon.
To make a donation please visit, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation San Diego & Imperial County Chapter.