"A little over three years ago my sister Caroline died of lupus," says Howie. "After the funeral, the band was supposed to do a big concert in South America. Everyone was telling me I should go, that Caroline would have wanted me to go because she loved our music and was so proud that I was doing what I loved." So three hours after burying his sister, Howie was on a flight to South America.
"And that's when it hit me — how fragile life is and I just lost it," he says. "I realized that we get so caught up in our jobs and forget about the important things. The Backstreet Boys don't matter at all if you don't have your health. Your health and your family are everything." The long flight left Howie with plenty of time to reflect on his sister's life and the pain he felt over her passing.
"There are five kids in my family. I'm the baby. My sister Caroline was 12 years older than me, so she was always my babysitter — we were very close," recalls Howie. "Then Caroline came to us and told us she had lupus. Caroline just thought of it like diabetes, that it was something she had to deal with, but nothing was going to hold her back." But after her first child was born the lupus got worse.
Despite the setback, Caroline still wanted to have another child. Two miscarriages followed. Her second child was born four months premature with cerebral palsy. And her lupus worsened.
Howie says his long flight to South America was made all the more difficult because he was unable to say goodbye to Caroline before she died.
"I've struggled with that a lot," admits Howie. "It happened so fast. It was September of 1998. We were celebrating winning our first MTV award and my dad called my brother John to let him know Caroline was in the hospital. He told my brother not to tell me but I could tell something was wrong and I dragged it out of him."
Howie told his tour manager that he was going to have to miss the next show and left immediately to be by Caroline's side.
"But I missed my flight by 10 minutes," says Howie. "By the time I got to the hospital the doctor was trying to resuscitate her, but we lost her. I felt so terrible that I hadn't been able to say goodbye to her. I just couldn't stop thinking about missing that first flight."
In Caroline's honor, Howie and his family started the Dorough Lupus Foundation to support lupus research and treatment throughout the world.