by Nate Imig
Sophomore Halee Newby is the Assistant Director for Homestead High School's production of "Treasure Island." The play just wrapped up last weekend, but the cast and crew have been working for months to get the show ready.
I caught up with Halee three days before opening night, while the cast was putting the final touches on the production. "Treasure Island" is a tough play to execute. It's filled with numerous fight scenes and daring stunts. As a student Assistant Director, Halee's job is to help coordinate all the moving parts.
"It's a lot of responsibility, but since I love it so much, it's never something I dread having to do," Halee said.
This is Halee's third time assistant directing, and she she still has two more years of high school to go. Homestead theater director Amelia Figg-Franzoi says Halee has a lot of talent.
"As an actor, as and director, as a leader, she can go anywhere. She knows how to get everything done, and she has the organizational skills to get it done," she said.
But Halee constantly has something else on her mind. Halee suffers from lupus. She was diagnosed at age 12.
She says it's frustrating because most people don't know what lupus is. And it is not an illness that you can see from the outside.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder. The body gets confused with common illnesses like the cold and flu, and it allows them into the system. The sun's harmful UV rays also pose a major threat and can trigger her lupus to flare up. Halee has to constantly apply sunscreen in the summer months and avoid prolonged exposure in the afternoon. When her illness flares, Halee experiences debilitating joint pain. When things are at their worst, Halee will oftentimes miss weeks of school at a time.
But she says keeping a positive attitude makes all the difference.
"If you want to just be upset about it and get depressed, it's not going to make anything better. It might actually make the lupus worse," Halee said. "Making sure every other aspect of your life that you can control, that you do your best, and do what makes you happy, then it's all good."
That positive attitude got her some national attention. Just last year, Halee was featured on the Emmy-nominated ABC show "Everyday Health." Camera crews spent 20 hours profiling Halee and her fight with lupus. They interviewed her family and friends, and they followed her on a fundraising event at Libby Montana.
"It was surreal," Halee said. "My friends who were on TV with me were really pleased with it, too."
Fundraising is a big part of Halee's life. In the last three and a half years, the Newby family has raised more than $70,000 for pediatric lupus research. And they have another fundraiser coming up this summer — August 11th at Libby Montana.
"We'll have a huge silent auction. Last year we had a suite at a Brewers game and just all kinds of fun stuff," Halee's mom said. "It's just a huge event. Last year we ended up raising between $17,000 and $18,000."
For more information on lupus, check out the Lupus Foundation of America's website.
Click the player below for the audio version of this story.