Sean Lowther and Patty White Dunn met in 4th grade at Coleytown Elementary School. They were “first loves” all through Miss Comer’s ballroom dance class.
Sean moved to Weston. But they fell back in love at Staples High School’s Class of 1962. They broke up for reasons neither remembers now, and did not see each other for 40 years.
After their respective divorces Patty contacted Sean through Classmates.com. She moved from Mobile to be with him in Charlotte. They’ve been married now for 18 years.
But that’s not what this story is about.
At 28, Patty was diagnosed with lupus. The autoimmune disease affects 1.5 million Americans — 90% of them women. With symptoms including fatigue, fever, joint pain, rashes, skin lesions, shortness of breath, chest pain, dry eyes, headaches, confusion and memory loss, it’s a chronic, debilitating — and life-altering — event.
In North Carolina, Patty — who had been a guardian ad litem, and worked with women whose husbands fought in Desert Storm — became board chair of the state Lupus Foundation of America chapter. Sean — who ran several businesses, and now owns a company that videotapes legal depositions — joined too. He also became chair.
Four years ago, he began writing a book about male caregivers.
It’s a role, he says, that most men are not trained to handle. But it’s crucial. Up to 75% of couples divorce after a lupus diagnosis — in part because men do not understand how to live with their spouse’s limitations.
More than 300 pages long, Caregivers Wear Plaid covers the long road to diagnosis (symptoms can mimic multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, and many doctors receive only cursory training about it, Sean says); medications; depression; sex and pregnancy; support groups, and more.
It’s wide-ranging, honest, and filled with information. For example, Sean writes about feeling guilty that he can play golf, and Patty can’t.
And though a woman is usually the one who suffers physically, lupus affects her husband too. Because of fatigue, their social life may become limited. When she does feel good and venture out, others may wonder what the big deal is. “You find out who your friends really are,” Sean says.
Caregivers Wear Plaid is available as an e-book — and it’s free. Sean and Patty want as many people to read it as possible.
So what’s next? For nearly 2 decades, Sean has produced videos about managing autoimmune diseases. It’s considered the largest video library in the world about lupus, but it’s “hidden” on the state foundation website. He’s in the process of remastering it, for distribution at the national level.
(To download Caregivers Wear Plaid, and for more information on Patty and Sean, click here.)