An accomplished singer, songwriter, actor, entrepreneur and original member of the internationally acclaimed pop music group the Backstreet Boys, Howie Dorough says he’s “living the dream.”
“I wake up every day can’t believe how lucky I am,” he says.
But in 1998, as the Backstreet Boys were topping Billboard’s music charts and receiving their first American MTV award, Dorough’s dream turned into a nightmare. “My sister Caroline was hospitalized and in very serious condition as a result of her lupus,” he says.
When he received word that Caroline was gravely ill and fighting for her life, Dorough flew to North Carolina to be by his sister’s bedside. “I got there just a little too late. She passed away after having the disease for 13 years while I was on the way from the airport to the hospital.”
Dorough, the youngest of five children, was born in Orlando, Florida, to parents Paula Flores and Hoke Dorough. At three, his passion for entertaining had Dorough jumping on his grandparent’s bed, singing “Baby Face” while strumming his tiny guitar. During elementary school in the mid 1980s, he participated in local musicals before moving into dancing and acting. “That’s about the time Caroline was diagnosed with lupus,” he says.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to turn against the body, harming healthy cells and tissues, often causing severe aches, rashes and hair loss.
“She had all the typical symptoms when she was diagnosed,” Dorough says.
A few years later, Dorough’s fate was sealed in 1992 when he became a member of the Backstreet Boys. The group quickly became an international success and by 1996 were staples on the covers of magazines and in CD players.
While his professional life continued to skyrocket, Dorough’s personal one was overshadowed by his sister’s struggle with lupus. “Her doctors tried numerous different medicines and treatments to keep her lupus in check,” he says. “She lived life to the fullest and never complained or let on that she was so sick.”
Unfortunately, Dorough says Caroline’s strong will got the best of her.
“I don’t think she took her medicine as vigilantly or followed her doctor’s orders as closely as she should have, which probably affected the quality and length of her life,” Dorough says.
Caroline had a young daughter when she was diagnosed and was cautioned not to get pregnant again. “They were afraid her body couldn’t handle the physical stress and wasn’t strong enough to go through pregnancy and delivery,” says Dorough. Desperate to have a son, Caroline went against her doctor’s recommendations and had another child, a son.
“She couldn’t carry him to full term and had to deliver him at 6 months,” says Dorough. Her son developed Cerebral Palsy and required extensive care and attention. “The medicines impaired her a bit and wouldn’t allow her to care for her son the way she wanted to. So to constantly care for him and carry him around, she didn’t take her medicine per her doctor’s orders,” says Dorough.
In September 1998, the Backstreet Boys were riding a huge wave of success, while Caroline found herself in the battle of her life. “The night we accepted out first MTV award in America I got a call that she had taken a turn for worse,” says Dorough. Despite being in the middle of an international tour, Dorough flew to North Carolina to see his sister. “She deteriorated and passed away at age 37, right before I got there.”
Dorough had little time to mourn. “Two hours after her funeral I had to take a plane to South America to catch up with the guys and finish our tour.” His music, bandmates and fans, Dorough says, are what helped him through the dark days following Caroline’s death. “That’s what really got me through and helped me not take her death in vain.”
Wanting to turn a painful personal experience into a global initiative, and to honor his sister, Dorough established the Dorough Lupus Foundation. “I wanted to raise awareness about lupus and spare another family from experiencing what ours did.” The foundation also provides financial support for those who cannot afford treatment and raises money for research.
“I’m very proud we’ve raised close to one million dollars to date. I know my sister is looking down on me and is proud I’m doing something for a good cause,” he says.