After Sean Hull moved to Ellicott City with his wife and two children in 2005, he sought out Dr. David Moller, the director of the sarcoidosis unit at Johns Hopkins. In a twist of fate or luck, Moller turned out to be one of Hull's neighbors.
It's one of many connections Hull has made in the past 16 years since he founded the Life and Breath Foundation in 1998 after losing his 59-year-old mother to sarcoidosis – an inflammatory disease that causes lesions called granulomas to form on internal organs.
"I was searching for answers for why this disease took my mother," says Hull, who is a PNC Wealth Management vice president/relationship manager. "I was doing research and looking at her autopsy. We did not know she had the disease and we lost her over just one weekend."
Hull, who now has three children, is also a top-flight Division I college basketball official who worked the round of 16 during March Madness earlier this year. He was on standby during the Elite Eight in the 2014 NCAA Division I tournament.
He has tapped into his sports connections for the sixth annual Flip Flop Festivus, which will be held Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons in Baltimore. The event will include a special tribute to former Orioles' Gold Glove center fielder Paul Blair, who was involved in past fundraisers before his death Dec. 26, 2013 at 69.
Hull has helped raise more than $300,000 for research to fight sarcoidosis, which affects one in 2,000 Americans.
Among sports personalities expected to attend the event are former University of Maryland and NBA players Walt Williams, Keith Booth and Juan Dixon; and former Baltimore Ravens Wally Williams, Qadry Ismail, Mike McCrary and Brad Jackson.
Walt Williams is a sideline reporter for the Terrapin Sports Radio Network, Wally Williams is a radio analyst for CBS Radio 105.7 The Fan, and Ismail is part of the Ravens broadcast team. Booth is an assistant coach with the men's basketball team at Loyola of Baltimore, and Dixon is part of the coaching staff with the men's team at the University of Maryland.
"I think it has been a continued growth of the awareness of the disease," Hull says of the annual Flip Flop Festivus. "I have very good support from the athletic community. Having a relationship with the media helps me expand the awareness."
Hull graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro and played baseball and soccer at Salisbury University, where he graduated in 1988.
He lived in Kings Contrivance and Long Reach in the mid-1990s and began to referee at the Columbia Association's Supreme Sports Club. Hull worked his way to the Division I level for college basketball in 1991 and has been a regular official in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic Association, Patriot League, America East and Mid Eastern Athletic Association, among other leagues.
Some of the notables from the world of sports who have appeared in past Flip Flip Festivus fundraisers include Johnny Holliday, the radio voice of the University of Maryland athletics; Ray Knight; Bob Carpenter; and former NBA player Phil Chenier, a longtime Howard County resident. Knight, who played for the Orioles in 1987, is a former Major League Baseball player and manager who now works for Mid-Atlantic Sports Network; and Carpenter does play-by-play for Washington Nationals' broadcasts on MASN.
'i thought I was alone'
Hull said he has heard from sarcoidosis patients from as far away as England, Montana and Colorado. One patient in Colorado has to travel nearly four hours one way to a hospital for treatment. He has also heard from two young women in Harford County who have sarcoidosis. "We continue to grow our relationship [with patients] through the event," Hull said.
Toni Robinson, 44, of Ellicott City met Hull when they both lived in Federal Hill in the late 1990s. She heard the story about his mother and told Hull she had sarcoidosis. "It affects a lot of young African-American women," Robinson said.
Robinson, who has a master's in human resource management from Towson University, has been involved in the Flip Flop Festivus for several years.
"We wanted to figure out something different that would draw people in," she said of the event, which includes a live auction with some sports travel packages.
Cascenta Whyte, 37, of Bel Air was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 2007 and met Hull a few years later.
"At the time a lot of people didn't know about sarcoidosis. I was so excited to become involved and help raise money for research," said Whyte, a writer who graduated from Edgewood High and has a master's degree from the University of Maryland. "This is a devastating disease. I thought I was alone [as a patient] until I met Sean and so many people."
For more information, go to lifeandbreath.org/events/flip-flop-festivus.
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