Lifelong Friendship Inspires Great Strides for a CF Cure 1

Brookhaven residents Emily Choate Bridges and Leann Rittenbaum have been best friends since before they can remember. The girls and their families first met in 1987 when a budding friendship between toddlers began in preschool.  After Leann experienced a year of chronic colds and weight loss, her pediatrician, suspecting cystic fibrosis, recommended a diagnostic sweat test at Scottish Rite hospital.   Soon after, she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system.

The news was devastating. “As the doctor at Scottish Rite broke the news, all I could hear is that my daughter had a fatal disease,” says Scot Rittenbaum, Leann’s father and now executive director of the Georgia Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  In 1988, few children with CF lived to reach young adulthood and the median predicted life expectancy was around 20 years.

But despite her daily routine of medications and airway clearance, and annual hospital “tune ups” for intensive treatments, Leann lived life fully, attending school, camp, swim team and frequent sleepovers at the Choate’s.

“Leann spent so much time at Emily’s house that we kept some of her digestive medicines with them,” says Rittenbaum.  “I have no memory of any gap between Leann’s diagnosis and Millard and Sue Choate not being 100 percent behind us and the CF cause.”

By 1989, Leann’s diagnosis and the hope for a CF cure was such a personal cause for the Choate family that when Millard Choate began his construction company as a home-based start-up, his corporate outreach mission was clear. That very same year in 1989, a team of Foundation-supported scientists discovered the defective CF gene and its protein product, opening the door to understanding the disease and starting a path to major drug discovery and therapies. Twenty-five years later, Choate Construction remains steadfast in their support.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has made significant progress in the last 33 years by funding basic research, drug discovery and development and improving clinical care through its network of accredited care centers. ”We have deeply altered the landscape of this disease and people with CF are living into their 30s, 40s and beyond,” says Rittenbaum. “With no government funding, we rely heavily on companies like Choate.”

Leann is true testimony to the significant advances in quality and quantity of life. After graduating from Chamblee High School and Boston University, she entered graduate school, but came home to tend to her health.  She is now senior manager of a consulting firm for online retail and is engaged to be married next year. “It’s the biggest thing I could ever hope for,” says Scot Rittenbaum, who turned his personal journey into a professional path in 2007 by joining the Foundation.  “We’ll stay in this fight until everyone is cured. In the meantime, it’s the selfless support that brings out the most emotion in me.”

Emily is now marketing director for the family’s construction business, and remains driven to find a cure.  Her tenacity landed her the Jena Award, the highest national honor bestowed to an individual by the CF Foundation. While Emily works overtime to keep Choate’s 380 employees personally connected to the cause, Choate’s employees work tirelessly to secure their coveted spot as one of the nation’s top corporate fundraising teams for the CF Foundation’s Great Strides event.

In Choate’s Atlanta office, Cars & ‘Q for the Cause is one of many custom “fun”raisers created by employees. Over 400 participants join Choate for the company’s annual car show and barbecue featuring 70 classic, muscle, exotic cars and bikes. Cars & ‘Q includes dinner, live music and a raffle and adds over $20,000 to their company’s annual $154,000-plus raised contributions to the CFF.

The car show grew out of CEO Millard Choate’s lifelong passion for collectible cars.  In its sixth year, it has tremendous support from the real estate community, the car community, young professionals and the CF community. In addition to Leann’s involvement in the car show, 5-year-old Adalyn Williams of Woodstock has been selected as Choate’s Ambassador.

Leann and Adalyn make the purpose of Cars & ‘Q for the Cause crystal clear — to cure Cystic Fibrosis once and for all.  “It’s just incredible to be in the here and now,” says Emily Bridges. “CF was once a childhood disease and now 50 percent of those with CF are over 18 and planning out their lives. But a lifespan into your 40s still isn’t good enough. That’s why we’re insistent on finding a cure.”


Tickets in advance are $15 entry/dinner,  $30 entry/dinner/bar access. $20 and $40 at the door.  8200 Roberts Drive