Oklahoma City Thunder: How Daniel Orton is honoring the mother he lost to lupus

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 31, 2013
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Daniel Orton gets the question all the time.

“What did your mother die from?”

Lupus, he tells inquiring minds.

“Well, what's that?” they'll ask.

Each time, Orton offers a brief explanation of the acute and chronic autoimmune disease that more than two million Americans and approximately 50,000 Oklahomans are living with.

“Not a lot of people know about it,” said Orton, the former Bishop McGuinness star who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

On Saturday, Orton will help raise awareness for the disease as the ambassador of the Oklahoma Walk & 5K Run to End Lupus Now. The event, which will be held at the Oklahoma City Zoo, is Oklahoma's largest lupus fundraising event. Its goal is to raise money for lupus research and education programs while increasing awareness of lupus and rallying public support for those who suffer from the debilitating disease.

“Like any disease, it affects people's lives,” Orton said. “Lupus is a very deadly disease. I just want (it) to gain awareness. That's pretty much the focus of this. Just trying to alert people and let people know about the disease because so many people don't even know about it.”

Orton had to learn the hard way.

Carolyn Orton was 52 when she lost her battle with lupus.

Daniel spent half his life watching his mother get checked in and out of hospitals. He was like so many others at first. Didn't know anything about lupus. Had never heard of it.

“Cancer was like the worse thing I ever heard about before this happened,” Orton said. “This was devastating in that for the first couple of years we really didn't know what to do or how to help her. But she helped us most by figuring out at an early stage in her diagnosis how to deal with it and how to keep it under control because that's the best you can do.”

Daniel first remembers learning that his mother was diagnosed with the disease in 1999. He was 9.

“Early on, when we didn't know what was going on, she had flu-like symptoms so we were just trying to treat it that way,” Orton said. “But it got to a point where she got worse.”

One day, Carolyn couldn't recognize Daniel's dad. Seconds later, she didn't know her oldest son, Terrence Crawford, Daniel's half brother who also starred at McGuinness before going on to play basketball at Oklahoma State.

“That's the part where they say the illness affects the mind,” Orton said.

Family members decided they needed to bring in Daniel. If Carolyn couldn't recognize her baby, they would have to get her to a hospital.

“So then I walked in and she said ‘Well, who are you?'” Orton remembers.

“That's one thing I heard at a young age, and I was dying when she said that to me. It just kind of threw me off. It threw me for a loop. I was upset that my mother might not ever know who I was again.”

Carolyn's mind soon recovered, but her immune system suddenly weakened.

She tired quickly. She couldn't eat much. She got sick easily.

Cold temperatures were cruelest to her condition.

“The toughest time was probably at the end,” Orton said, “when she was passing.”

Nobody saw it coming.

Orton was a senior at McGuinness, one of the best high school basketball players in the country. But his mother's rapidly declining health, coupled with a knee injury that cost him most of his final prep season, robbed Orton of what should have been one of the most special years of his life.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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ABOUT LUPUS

What is it: Lupus is an acute and chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system is unbalanced, causing inflammation and tissue damage to virtually every organ system in the body. The disease can cause seizures, strokes, heart attacks, miscarriages, organ failures and, in some cases, death.

Who is at risk: Lupus can strike women, men and children of all ages. Ninety percent of individuals diagnosed with the disease are women, mostly of childbearing age. No one is safe from lupus. African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans and Asian-Americans are two to three times more likely to develop lupus, a disparity that remains unexplained.

How to diagnose it: Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms sometimes come and go or change over time and imitate other illnesses. While lupus symptoms are similar to those of many other illnesses, major gaps exist in understanding the causes and consequences of the disease.

How to treat it: Lupus can be disabling and fatal, but the disease can be managed in most cases through aggressive medical treatment and lifestyle changes.

What else: Lupus is not contagious. Researches discovered last year that it is hereditary and can be passed on from a mother to a daughter or son. … Over two million Americans are affected and approximately 50,000 Oklahomans and growing. … More women die from lupus-related symptoms than of breast cancer. … Lupus research and support is underfunded in comparison with diseases of comparable magnitude and severity.

ABOUT THE WALK AND RUN

* The Oklahoma Walk and 5K Run to End Lupus Now is one of the nation's largest walks within the Lupus Foundation of America organization.

* The event will be held at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Over 1,000 walkers and runners are expected this year.

* The event's mission is to raise money for lupus research and education programs while increasing awareness of lupus and rallying public support for those who suffer from the debilitating disease. The Oklahoma Lupus Chapter's fundraising goal is $100,000.

* Early registration begins at 7 a.m. for the Walk and Run. The Walk kicks off at 8:15 a.m. and the 5K Run will begin at 9:30 a.m. sharp at Remington Park.

* There will be entertainment and festivities provided for families to enjoy throughout the event.

* Oklahoma City Thunder and former Bishop McGuinness standout Daniel Orton will serve as the Walk ambassador. The name of his team is One Goal for Mom in memory of his mother, Carolyn, who died of complications from lupus in 2009. She was 52. Orton's goal is to raise $25,000 for the local chapter.

* For more information, visit oklupus.org, or call (405) 225-7510.

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