Origins: Save One Life

The air was crisp with the coming of Fall when we visited New York City this past Thursday night to attend NHF’s Annual Soirée, a fundraiser that honors various members and organizations in the bleeding disorder community. I have attended once before, a few years ago. It’s a lovely night and chance to get caught up with colleagues and friends, while being dressed to the nines. This night, the nonprofit organization I founded, Save One Life, was to be honored. We were receiving the “Global Impact Award.”

Chris Bombardier giving acceptance speech

Along with Save One Life, Alex Borstein, television actress and community member, David Quinn, head coach for the NY Rangers and the World Federation of Hemophilia were also being honored for the Inspiration Award, Ambassador Award, and Global Leadership Award, respectively. Congratulations to all who were honored!

Chris Bombardier, Save One Life’s executive director (and famous mountaineer with hemophilia) and I took the stage to accept the award, while several of our board members looked on. With us were: board member Ujjwal Bhattarai, chair, who helped us found Save One Life, and his wife Sunita, who have a child with hemophilia; new board member Natalie Lynch, and husband Patrick (actor and film director, president of Believe Ltd., who has hemophilia), and board member Kayla Klein, mother of a child with hemophilia who works at Sigilon.

Val Bias, CEO NHF, Chris Bombardier and Laurie Kelley of Save One Life,
Dawn Rotellini, COO NHF

While looking at them from the stage and into the bright lights of the future, I recalled our very humble roots. I spoke to the audience about how Ujjwal and I have worked for 18 years to make Save One Life truly have impact among the world’s poor. It has been a long, difficult and challenging road, but with the greatest of rewards: to help those without access to factor have access; to help those who live on the edge have security; to let those with an uncertain future know they have an organization to count on. After 18 years we have now seen so many of our children in school, graduating, have jobs and even have families of their own.

We had to give credit to Chris, and his daring Seven Summits Quest, which helped raise awareness of Save One Life to the global community. And more than that, the documentary “Bombardier Blood,” directed by Patrick Lynch of Believe Ltd and now produced by Alex Borstein, has catapulted us into the spotlight. We never sought recognition or fame for the work we consider a personal and compelling mission—for me, based on my faith—but the movie has done more for us than just about anything we have done ourselves. We could not thank Chris or Patrick enough for their efforts. Their sacrifices and dedication have been huge. And kudos and gratitude to Octapharma, which funded the last two mega-climbs, and for funding the entire movie.

But absent that evening was a key person, perhaps without whom known of this would have come to pass.

Laurie Kelley with Lisa O’Connor, who created the idea
of Save One Life in 1999

Twenty years ago, a mom from Cold Springs Harbor, New York, not far from where the event took place, sent me a letter. She has a son with hemophilia, only a few years younger than mine, and read my books and newsletter. In 1999, we used to write letters to one another! Hers came on one sheet of yellow lined paper, and on it, she wondered if there was a way to help children with bleeding disorders in developing countries, like Save the Children. I happened to have sponsored two children with Save the Children, one in Lebanon and one in Mali. Not long after she sent her letter, I made my first trip to Pakistan, a country I have grown to love. There, on the Arabian Sea, in a humble, two room dwelling in a very poor area, I sat on a bed with a baby in my lap, listening to a father with a fretful expression speak about his two young sons with hemophilia. He was very poor, only earning about $20 US a month. He wished for an extra $20 a month, to send his oldest boy, Mohammad Ali, to school. With this education, his son could get a good job, once he learned English. I thought this would be an easy fix. And if we could do this for this Pakistani child, why not do it for others? Americans are among the most generous people on earth, and I knew if we appealed to them to help children with hemophilia who were poor and without factor, we could help change lives.

It was Lisa’s letter that kept drawing me back. Could we create a program like Save the Children?  The answer was yes. Yes. Anything is possible!

Now, 18 years later, here we are. Over 2,000 children sponsored. Over $3 million in direct aid. Over 270 college scholarships. Over 80 microenterprise grants. Over 30 camp grants. 13 developing countries. And more to come… .

(See www.saveonelife.net for a short video of Save One Life’s accomplishments so far)

Save One Life board members Ujjwal Bhattarai and Natalie Lynch, with spouses Sunita and Patrick

As it happened, I was going to Huntington, New York after the event to catch a Doors tribute band show at the Paramount Theater. Something rang a bell… I checked my database and saw that Lisa lived right near Huntington. A few texts later and we agreed to meet!

This morning Lisa walked into the Sweet Hollow Diner, and we sat together for breakfast, while I shared all the profound and life-changing programs and stories that have happened over the past 18 years.  She was amazed; with her son grown and gone, she had kind of lost touch with the bleeding disorder community.

I believe in honoring those who make a difference. Save One Life was not my idea; it was Lisa’s. Lisa cast a small stone into a pond, and the ripple effect continues after 18 years, and hopefully will continue for decades to come. Her idea was a catalyst, and so many have benefited from it. Let’s honor Lisa, as well as those Thursday night. It was her vision that gave birth to Save One Life.

Visit https://lakelley.smugmug.com/Events/Galas/NHF-2019-Soiree-Honoring-Save-One-Life/ to see photos of the event!

We need to give ourselves permission to act out our dreams and visions, not look for more sensations, more phenomena, but live our strongest dreams— even if it takes a lifetime. Vijali Hamilton