May 2019

Bayer Teams Up with WFH to Provide Aid

Anyone who knows me, knows I care deeply for patients with bleeding disorders in developing countries. I’ve been trying since 1996 to create ways to get factor concentrates to them, from simply shipping it through Project SHARE, to helping start patient nonprofits in other countries in order to ship more factor.

So whenever I hear of stories like the one I’m about to share, I get very excited, and deeply grateful. I know so many children whose lives have been forever changed by simply getting factor. It’s a miracle drug, and needed by so many.

Bayer announced last week that it is entering into a five-year partnership with the World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH) to bring education, training, and Bayer’s full portfolio of recombinant factor VIII (rFVIII) treatments to healthcare professionals in more than 60 countries where access to care is limited. Yes!

As part of the agreement, Bayer will provide financial assistance to support the training and education of healthcare professionals on the accurate and safe administration of treatments. WFH has local partner organizations through which they distribute the donation and manage logistics.  

The expanded WFH Humanitarian Aid Program seeks to improve the lack of access to care and treatment by providing much needed support for people with inherited bleeding disorders in developing countries. As we all know all too well, providing patients with a more predictable and sustainable flow of humanitarian aid donations is critical, and the WFH Humanitarian Aid Program makes it possible for patients to receive consistent and reliable access to treatment and care.

In particular, Bayer will donate 50 million IU of factor VIII treatment in 2019. Factor VIII treatment donation will support up to 5,000 people living with hemophilia A in countries with insufficient access to care.

I’ve been to over 30 developing countries, some of them up to four times, and know many patients. I am thrilled to hear this news; it’s bold, it’s needed and it’s time. People with hemophilia continue to die. We can prevent that, and give them a chance at life, which they so deserve.  Kudos, Bayer!

Footnote: In 1996, a rep from Bayer approached me to create and run a leadership program in developing countries to encourage parents and patients to start their own nonprofits and advocate for change. Project SHARE grew out of this program, and we continue today independently to provide leadership training, financial assistance and product.

Basil Rathbone Hemophilia Celebrity Spokesperson

By Richard J. Atwood

originally published in PEN, February 2019

Who would you pick as a celebrity spokesperson for our bleeding disorder community?

Celebrity status automatically captures the public’s attention. And our community wants to be noticed—for public awareness, for outreach, and just for the pleasure of being recognized. Soon after its founding in 1948, National Hemophilia Foundation (NHF) chose actor Basil Rathbone as its celebrity spokesperson. From the beginning, NHF wanted to be recognized. But why Rathbone?

Basil Rathbone (1892–1967) may be familiar to you, especially if you enjoy older movies. At one time, Rathbone was very well known, most famously as Sherlock Holmes. He appeared in 83 films from 1921 to 1967. Plus, he performed in the theater, on the radio, and for live television. Born in South Africa and raised in England, Rathbone began his career in 1913 as a classically trained Shakespearean stage actor. He saw combat in Europe during World War I.

In 1921, Rathbone debuted in his first silent film. He then moved to America. Rathbone kept his English citizenship, and he took frequent trips to London. Eventually, Rathbone wanted to return to his first love—acting onstage. In 1947 he left Hollywood for New York City, where NHF had its offices. So it made sense for NHF to ask Rathbone to be a celebrity spokesperson.

In the early 1950s, Rathbone was at the height of his acting career on stage, screen, and radio. He could sing and dance, and was a skilled swordsman. He did paid advertising for cigarettes, liquor, insurance, and diet food. Amazingly, he played 52 roles in 23 plays by Shakespeare. Over seven years starting in 1939, Rathbone starred in the role of detective Sherlock Holmes in 16 films and 275 radio episodes. Rathbone was rewarded with two Academy Award nominations. His popularity would peak again later in the 1960s, when his Sherlock Holmes films were broadcast on television.

Despite his wide range of roles on stage and screen, Rathbone is mostly remembered, regrettably, as a type-cast villain. His villainous roles include Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield; the Marquis St. Evrémonde in A Tale of Two Cities; Captain Esteban Pasquale in The Mark of Zorro; and probably his most famous role, Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

By coincidence, Rathbone performed in two movies that included hemophilia. He portrayed Prime Minister Disraeli in the 1961 television production of Laurence Housman’s Victoria Regina on NBC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame program. Julie Harris portrayed Queen Victoria, a known hemophilia carrier. Unfortunately, Housman’s play, originally staged in 1936, includes some inaccuracies about hemophilia genetics.

In 1966, Roger Corman, a producer at American International, hired Rathbone for the film Queen of Blood (Planet of Blood). Rathbone played Dr. Farraday, who, in 1990, sends a team of astronauts to Mars to rescue a crashed spacecraft. The astronauts return with a survivor—a green woman named Velana. The astronauts quickly learn that Velana is a vampire who kills her captors, and that she also has hemophilia.

Velana bleeds to death from a scratch, leaving behind her eggs. I admit, this is one of my all-time favorite science fiction/horror flicks, originally shown at drive-in theaters. NHF chose Basil Rathbone as a celebrity spokesperson for only a short time. We don’t know whether he had a family connection with hemophilia. Although he performed in two movies that include hemophilia,

Rathbone was probably more concerned with earning a salary than promoting a cause. Yet we can always be grateful for any celebrity spokesperson.

Who would you choose to speak for our community today?

For more info, read Rathbone’s autobiography, In and Out of Character (1962); and Michael B. Druxman’s biography/filmography, Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films (1975). 

For more articles like this check out Richard’s Review, published in every issue of PEN!

Famous Mothers in Hemophilia on Mother’s Day

As I drove out to visit my mother today on Mother’s Day, I thought of all the mothers in hemophilia who made history or made their mark. Some were famous, some not so much. Many made differences that impact all of us today. I realized, too, an important distinction: mothers were so prominent and made such a difference due to the HIV crises in the 1980s. And afterwards, when we lost almost half our community, mothers stepped forward to make changes. They had to; many of the men, especially the activists, were gone. And their children were too young to take action.

Queen Victoria

But let’s start with one famous woman from history: Queen Victoria. She is perhaps the most notorious carrier of hemophilia, as well as being the longest serving monarch in history, that is, until Queen Elizabeth just usurped that title! Queen Victoria had nine children; only Leopold had hemophilia B. But two of her daughters, Princess Alice and Princess Beatrice, inherited the gene, which they passed on to the Russian royal family and the Spanish royal family. Prince Leopold died on March 29, 1884 in Cannes, France. Princess Alice married Tsar Nicholas II and later gave birth to Alexis, who had hemophilia. And that changed world history.

In the US? I think of Jeanne White-Ginder, whose son Ryan White challenged not only the Indiana school system to allow him to stay in school despite having HIV, but challenged the nation’s mindset and fears. To a nation that feared homosexuals and heroin users as HIV contaminants, Ryan was just a little boy, who gave the dreaded virus a face and name. He died on April 8, 1990, and his mother continues his cause to educate everyone about HIV, health and advocacy. (I am honored beyond words to be friends with her on Facebook)

Jeanne White and Ryan

I also think of Louise Ray, mother of the three brothers: Ricky, Robert and Randy. The Ray family made headlines in August 1987 (a week before my own son with hemophilia was born) when their trailer home in Arcadia, Florida was fire-bombed a week after the boys were granted permission to attend school despite having HIV. The Ray family had sued the school district and won re-admittance to school, as well as a $1.1 million settlement. They were ostracized from the community and even their own church. The faced death threats. Louise was only 29 years old. Ricky Ray died in 1992 at age 15. Robert died in 2000 at age 22. Eventually, Congress would pass the Ricky Ray Act which provided compensation to everyone with hemophilia infected with HIV, as part of the government settlement for not safeguarding the nation’s blood supply.

Louise Ray and Robert

And I bet you don’t remember that we once had a female president of NHF! Kate Muir, the one and only female president. That was a daring role to take on, and maybe it’s time we think about another woman to lead us?

There’s Michelle Rice, mother of two adults with hemophilia, former executive director of the Indiana Hemophilia Foundation and now senior vice president, External Affairs, National Hemophilia Foundation–and recognized insurance guru! And Dawn Rotellini, senior vice president, Program Development, mother of a child with hemophilia. Two powerhouse women who continue to influence chapters and leaders in the US and beyond.

Dawn Rotellini, NHF
MIchelle Rice, NHF

Lastly, Kimberly Haugstad, executive director of Hemophilia Federation of America, a national nonprofit that advocates and educates and offers programs to directly impact individual families with chronic disorders. Kimberly works tirelessly to reach families in need through financial assistance, education and policy-making. She’s the mother of a child with hemophilia.

To these mothers, and so many more, Happy Mother’s Day and thank you!

Kimberly Haugstad, HFA

Remembering Aurora

It sounds cliché, but there truly are people you meet only once in your life but never forget. Aurora was such a person. My dear friend and colleague Adriana Henderson, founder of S.T.A.R. Children Relief, told me yesterday that this 68-year-old Romanian woman had died. It felt like a star had fallen from the sky into blackness. What do I remember about her?

I met her in April 2004 in Romania, my first trip there. I’ll share from my journal at that time:

“Adriana and I had had several days visiting hospitals and patients, and went on to the city of Isai. We finally arrive at Aurora’s house, late, after 10 pm, tired and stiff. Aurora is a nurse at the local hospital who treats hemophilia patients. She is Adriana’s partner here in Romania, a person whom she trusts completely, with money, with tasks, with confidences.  She is a stocky, short, unadorned woman. Her hands are swollen, more from hard work than her weight. Her gray hair is carelessly put in a bun, with escaped whisps loose about her face. She is cross-eyed. She is very gracious. Despite how late it was she had a lovely meal prepared, which she completely cooked herself. With a sly smile she insists that we try her wine, which I wonder is homemade since everything is, and the wine is in a Fanta bottle. Aurora toasts “Christ is Risen,” I answer “Amen,” and we finish our meal. It’s obvious she and Aurora have deep affection for each other. Finally, over a small country bridge, we drive on to the Monastery at 11:30 pm, which is just down the road from Aurora’s house. We awaken one of the nuns and get settled. Aurora had accompanied us to help us get settled, then insists on walking home in the dark, chilled night.

Laurie Kelley with nurse Aurora

“In the morning we set off to get Aurora, who’s fixed us an amazing breakfast. Homemade strawberry jam, homemade butter, sour cream, eggs fixed with sausages, home made breads. We marvel at her abilities as we learn that neither Adriana nor I cook or enjoy cooking. We are happy to have something so deficient in common! We eat a lot, and it will be our only meal until 10 pm. Aurora now comes with us on our visits. We next visit Marius’ house. Marius has abscessed teeth, and needs to have them pulled. We gave him the 8,000 units we had, a vast fortune for someone with hemophilia here, an amount many would never see in a brief lifetime; a one week’s supply for a typical American boy.

“Next we venture on to Jonas’s [not real name] house. It’s only 20 minutes away. Both Marius and Jonas are Aurora’s patients and under her care. I expect a small home, like the others we have seen, but I am not prepared for his home. He lives in a one-room shack with his four siblings and grandmother. One bed, on which they all sleep, one well from which they retrieve water, one outhouse, next to where the beefy pig is penned. As we come in the grandmother grabs and hugs and kisses me, as if I am here to rescue them. Jonas exists the house, on homemade crutches that cause him to bend over. He looks tough, roughened. He does not smile, and eyes us guardedly. He is 14 years old, thin, with a permanent joint contracture. He has an older sister who is working, a younger sister, 13, who is beautiful, and twin brother and sister. They are both blond haired and green-eyed, absolutely beautiful. At first they are all wide-eyed, and not trusting. Adriana presents them with presents: an Etch-a-Sketch and a doll. The children recite some poems and songs for us, which we recorded. Little by little Jonas warms up.

“His story? His mother is an alcoholic, the father has deserted them. The mother shacks up with a new boyfriend, leaving the grandmother to care for the children. The grandmother is a saint; she had those four children looking as clean as could be, with hair combed and clean clothes on. That seems almost impossible given where they live, They do not have running water or anyplace to bathe. The mother refuses to let Jonas attend school, even though the beautiful school is right next to his home! He could walk over, even with his disability. She refused to let him go to summer camp. She has a million excuses. She beats the children, but it was worse when the father was home. The father would beat all the children, including those angelic twins. When the grandmother fell ill and was in the hospital, the twins would not leave her side, preferring to sleep on the hospital floor rather than go home to a place where they would be unprotected.

“Adriana offers again to send Jonas to a boarding school in town, but Jonas drops his eyes and vigorously shakes his head. Why? Adriana asks. Don’t you want to learn how to write? To study? To get a job? His lip quivers and he bites it. Looking down he answers, not if it means leaving my brother and sisters. He wants to stay to protect them. The grandmother and Adriana get tears in their eyes. What a stoic child.

Aurora with Jonas’s grandmother

“What do you want to be when you grow up, I ask him. The thing I can never be, he replies, a policeman. Aurora suggests he might work in the police department, and then get top lock up bad guys; his face lightens a bit.

“The visit takes a twist when the mother shows up, stumbling down the street from the town center. She is drunk, and her lover is with her, a thin, weasely-looking guy, dirty and also drunk. We shrink back as if we’ve seen two poisonous snakes. Not Aurora. Usually quiet, unassuming, she suddenly leaps into action, and verbally attacks the mother. Why don’t you let this child attend school? Why won’t you let him attend camp? The mother is smoking and tough looking. Little by little she cannot hold up under the barrage and starts to cry. The children are all watching. I know it is not a pleasant scene, but I hope they see how Aurora fights for them. We’re standing out on the road and neighbors start to gather. The mother earns social security for each child, $10 a month. It’s in her interest to keep the child home and disabled. The welfare money makes her wealthy: she could actually live better than Aurora. But instead she is the town’s poorest person, and drinks her money away. We leave disgusted and angry, vowing to change this child’s life.

“We then drive on to Suceava to meet gypsies with hemophilia [which is a story for another day!]. The day was long and poor Aurora was exhausted. Aurora is a person I imagine not given to asking anything for herself or complaining, yet she kept checking her watch, yawning and looking tired. She has to get up a 4 am, ride 5 hours each day to get to work, and tomorrow must work a double shift.

“April 20, 2004: I awoke at 6:15 this morning at the monastery. It was very cold, with frost on the ground and a chill in air. We had to scrap frost off the car windows, serenaded by a very hungry young cat, who was chased away by one of the farm hands, until Mother Superior let him purr his way into the kitchen. The monastery grounds were quiet and still in cold air. We set off to pick up Aurora. We talked her into letting us drive her to work, so she can get there in 20 minutes, instead of taking the train for 90 minutes. Her 95-year-old father is already up and dressed, bright eyed, saying good morning to us in slow motion. Aurora has been up since 3:30 am, yet has set out a full breakfast, with fresh chicken legs, home made breads, pickled peppers, butter, jam, and tea. She insists we eat. We give her some money for Jonas, and for some other patients. She accepts it without question and stores it in a safe place. I wonder if she thinks I am crazy for parting with this fortune. She earns only $150 a month, but accepts $215 for these destitute people. We trust her completely. We set off to drive her to her hospital where she’ll work two shifts, back to back, helping other people’s kids and worrying about her elderly father all day.

“When we drop her off she has red-rimmed eyes, brimming with tears. She is rambling on and on in Romanian, speaking to me; we are holding hands, hers feel like leathery mitts. I find it hard to let go of her. She is plain, age 53 and looking older than she is, with grey hair and crossed eyes. But how special she is, how selfless. She cares deeply and genuinely for everyone.  I can’t think of anyone else who lives Jesus’s message more. I tell her she loves these boys with hemophilia, and she would love my own son if he were one of them, so how can I not love her? Her red-rimmed eyes blink and she shakes her head as if to deny it. I tell her she is an angel on earth and she shakes her head even more vigorously. As we drive off, I look out the back window; she is standing in the street, and we are both waving to each other for as long as we can, until we no longer see each other. It’s not the cheerful waving of goodwill when you leave associates; it’s the forlorn waving to someone you genuinely like when you are not sure when you will see them again. It’s tinged with surprise at these sudden feelings, melancholy, love and fear, fear that you don’t know when you will see each other.”

I only met Aurora that once, and we spent a few days visiting patients together in some odd situations. Enough time to know her heart, and see her fierce love for the children who suffer in action. She had no children of her own, and cared for her elderly father. Who would ever care for her? She is at rest now; a life well-lived, in the service of the poor and suffering. Her name means “Dawn,” and the dawn always gives us hope . The way she always gave hope to the children with hemophilia in Romania.

Support a child with hemophilia in Romania in Aurora’s name by visiting

Support a child in need in Romania by visiting STAR Children Relief.

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