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‘MasterChef’ finalist Frank Mirando stops by lupus fundraiser

"MasterChef" top four finalist and Holtsville native Frank Mirando attended an event to raise money for the Long Island Lupus Alliance and to support his friend, Lilli Sarantos, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2010. (Aug. 30, 2012) Credit: Mary Kate Mahoney

When she turned 35 in July, Christine Miserandino didn’t know how to celebrate her birthday.

It may seem like just another birthday to most people, but for Miserandino, who was diagnosed at the age of 15 with lupus, just getting to 35 was a milestone.

Instead of a birthday party, Miserandino decided to celebrate with an “unbirthday party” that raised money for the Long Island Lupus Alliance.

She set the date for her “unbirthday party” for Aug. 30, giving her only one month to plan.

“People said I couldn’t plan a big event in just a few weeks,” said Miserandino, of Valley Stream. “I thought, just watch me.”

Miserandino is used to proving others wrong and accomplishing much more than is expected.

When lupus forced her to quit her job and move back home in her mid-20s, she used the time to begin a support website. The site has become a popular forum for individuals living with lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects several body systems.

“People ask me, ‘Are you better yet?’ And I say ‘No, there is no cure,’” Miserandino said. “It’s not like the flu. I’ll never be better.”

Her influence also has grown with the introduction of social media. So with the help of her friends and family, Miserandino tapped into her resource of more than 40,000 Facebook and Twitter followers to plan the “unbirthday party.”

Lilli Sarantos, 42, of Holbrook, was diagnosed with lupus in July 2010 and connected with Miserandino on Facebook two years ago. Sarantos, who met Miserandino for the first time in person on Thursday, organized donations of desserts and gift baskets for the party.

Along with dessert, Sarantos brought a local celebrity to the party -- Holtsville native Frank Mirando, one of the last four finalists on this season of “MasterChef.”

“I think it’s great that everyone is coming together here,” Mirando said. “It’s a great support system for people with this disease.”

More than 75 people attended the “unbirthday party,” which was held at Bar Social in Uniondale. Forty gift baskets and raffle prizes were donated by individuals and small businesses. Miserandino said the event raised nearly $4,000.

“Because everything was donated, we can use all the proceeds to donate to the Lupus Alliance,” Miserandino said.

While the cause was serious, the atmosphere of the party was nothing but cheerful. Friends and family connected with Miserandino’s online community for a fun evening of eating, drinking and music.

“Lupus primarily affects women in their prime,” Miserandino said. “When you’re graduating college, when you’re getting married, it affects you just when you’re starting your life and it slams you down. This is my way of fighting back.”

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