Duke Energy Center lights building orange for local teen

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 6, 2015

Alecia Judd and her family had a wonderful dinner together in Charlotte Wednesday and then spent the rest of the night in a parking lot gazing at orange lights in the sky.

The Duke Energy Center was lit up in honor of her son, Brandon.

Brandon, 18, has a mitochondrial disease and an intellectual and developmental disability. But does not define who Brandon is, Alecia Judd said.

Diagnosed when he was 3 with the mitochondrial disease, Brandon went from a healthy walking, talking child to being sick and eventually wheelchair-bound.

Mitochondria are responsible for creating more than 90 percent of the energy needed by the body to sustain life and and support growth, according to the United Mitchondrial Disease Foundation.

When mitochondria fail, less energy is generated within a cell. Eventually the cells can become injured or die.

Brandon was born with the disease but went undiagnosed for three years. He would become sick and regain some functions, but not all, his mother said.

“He never gets back to where he was. He was ‘normal’ and got sick and was never the same,” she said.

Brandon would regain some words and then lose words, Judd said, but right now he only says “Mom.” At one point he used an electronic speech generator, but he didn’t like the device.

Brandon does some sign language and uses an iPad for playing games and communicating with others. The family uses an app into which he types his responses, and it speaks for him.

In 1987, March was declared Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. There is no color associated with this month, but since orange was Brandon’s favorite color, Judd thought it would be appropriate.

The Duke Energy Center on South Tryon Street is the tallest building in the Levine Center for the Arts and the largest building in Charlotte. Often showing blue lights when the Carolina Panthers play, the building has hundreds of programmable color changing LED and and metal halide luminaires.

A few weeks ago, Judd simply asked the question: Would the folks at the Duke Energy Center consider lighting the building in Brandon’s favorite color? She said it would be a way to literally shine a light on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“They met with the committee the following week and let me know soon after that,” she said.

When she found out the committee approved the lighting, it brought her to tears, Judd said.

The family sat in a parking lot so they could get a good view of the building and took photos to capture the moment.

Judd said the building was beautiful — much better in person than in photos.

“Brandon could hardly contain himself, he was so very excited, and so was the rest of the family,” Judd said.

Brandon may be wheelchair bound and nonverbal, but he loves to laugh and joke. He enjoys watching sports, especially hockey, his mother said.

His favorite television show is “Family Feud” with Steve Harvey. Brandon’s dream is to one day meet Steve Harvey. Brandon loves NASCAR races and big trucks, Judd said. And he likes pretty girls, especially their feet.

“He’s always had a foot fetish,” she said with a chuckle.

He enjoys praise and worship music. Although he can’t utter the words, Brandon often prays for people at the church the family attends.

“He is a valuable member of our family, our neighborhood, our church and our community,” Judd said.

Wednesday’s special lighting was not just for Brandon, she said.

“It was an endeavor to raise awareness for all people that have intellectual and developmental disabilities. My dream is to not only have the community accept people with  intellectual and developmental disabilities, but to embrace and celebrate people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” she said.

“We are all more alike than we are different. We all have our hopes and dreams. We all want to live happy lives.”

To learn more about Intellectual Developmental Disabilities visit www.thearc.org for more details.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.