Aim to Fly and Touch the Moon

Udeshya ke linu, udi chhunu chandra ek. Aim to fly and touch the moon together.

Nepalese proverb

I’m back in
Kathmandu, Nepal after 18 months, and still there are so many signs of the massive earthquake that rattled the country on April 25, 2015.
The
air quality remains poor: my throat feels raw and my eyes water. Our team wears filter
masks strapped to our faces, to protect our lungs. The city at night pulsates like a
living being: through the streets motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, trucks flow,
belching out waste, laced overhead by a gnarly grey network of telephone wires
and cables at each street corner.

I’m here with the crew from Believe Ltd, who will be filming hemophilia B patient Chris Bombardier as he meets with the Save One Life program partner, the Nepal Hemophilia Society (NHS), and patients, and prepares for his Everest attempt. Chris’s wife Jessica accompanied him and will trek with us to base camp. She and I will stay two nights, then come back to Kathmandu while Chris stays another month, acclimating for the big climb. Should Chris summit, he will be the first person in history with hemophilia to conquer Everest. With
all the camera equipment, and Rob Bradford (photography), Jess, Chris and I in another, so Rob can
film. I enjoy their wide-eyed first look at Nepal with all its helter-skelter traffic
and humanity.
First stop today, Tuesday, March 28, is the Bir Hospital, where I’ve been three times
previously. I first came to Nepal in 1999 for an assessment visit, then returned in 2000, when my company funded a medical conference. I was so impressed with the NHS then. And more so now. The NHS became our second program partner for Save One Life solely based on their ability to get the job done right, and fast. They are a crackerjack team and work hard to help their patients. 
It’s different
traveling with a film crew this time. I’m used to moving fast and ducking in and out. But
with about 200 pounds of camera and sound equipment, we have to move carefully
and cautiously. The hospital is still in disarray following the earthquake. It’s dark and uninviting. But the hemophilia treatment ward is brightly lit,
clean and orderly. No patients are there at first, and while the crew films,
we chat with the two lovely nurses.
I learn there are 573 registered patients out of an estimated 2,500.
A high number registered! About 200 make regular visits to the HTC, also a
high number. The center is now open 24 hours a day, which is excellent. They have a small
fridge, under lock and key, for factor. Inside is the Biogen/WFH donation of
Alprolix and Eloctate. This donation is absolutely revolutionizing care,
because it provides consistent product availability, which allows for planning, which leads to a
changed mindset. (I will write more about this in the August issue of PEN).
The nurses slipped silk scarves about our necks and greeted us with
“Namste!” as we each entered. The ward was upgraded! Freshly painted, with new
offices for factor storage and for the nurses’ office; it looks excellent. A freezer held
fresh-frozen plasma, something you never see in the US; this is for patients
with rarer factor deficiencies, or for when there is no factor.

Then a patient walked in: 18-year-old Bibek, a handsome, tall young man,
slender, with an apparent elbow bleed. Despite what must be searing pain, he
smiled broadly, was calm and accepting, gracious. It’s how the Nepalese are:
deeply ingrained in each seems to be a gentle approach to life, respect for
all, and profound civility. They have much to teach the world about how to get
along with others.

We chatted with him and learned he had to travel 3 hours to reach the
HTC for one injection of 1,000 IU, not even enough for his lanky frame. And the
elbow bleed started the day before. He didn’t put ice on it because there is
none where he lives. Still he smiles; his face is placid and open, inviting.
His English is excellent.
Patrick asks us to redo the entire visit for the documentary! We have to regroup in the
hallway, then enter again, replay every conversation and act. We joke it’s
Bollywood and we should sing and dance our way in. Think the ending of Slumdog Millionaire! So we comply and redo the entire entry, greeting,
conversation. I ask them to include the photo of the mom who died in the
earthquake, while she was assisting in blood donations. She’s a true hero.
I chat with another young man there, who I had met in 2015:
Ashrit. I regret that I didn’t recognize him at first. We chatted, and he
lifted his leather jacket sleeve to reveal a clawed hand: Volkman’s
contracture. Repeated bleeds for four years have left his left hand useless,
and in a permanent grasp. The saddest part is that he loves to play guitar. I
ask who his favorite guitar player is and he rattles off a long list: Jimmy
Page, Angus Young, Jimi Hendrix… “Slash?” I ask. Oh yes! He’s amazing! So we
share stories of guitar players and music, and he knows how to play Sweet Child
O’ Mine (one of my favorites). He even learned to play with one hand and had Jess and me listen to a
recording on his phone. It’s beautiful. He has talent. He also shows artwork, a
pencil sketch of a child, which is beautiful and haunting.

To lighten the conversation, I ask (on camera) do you… ride a
motorcycle? And I picked at his leather jacket. He started laughing, and I said
I know you Nepalese boys and your motorbikes! He said he used to but not any
longer. Such a sweetheart. He needs surgery. The
main problem? He has an inhibitor. Life has dealt this young man a double blow
but still he smiles and has dreams. I want to help him get surgery.

After
the Bir Hospital we drove to the Nepal Hemophilia Society office, in the
residential district. Some wiry teens were playing cricket in the street; birds
chirped, the sky was overcast and the air cool. Inside was crowded. They had
built out the office, including a new cold room, to store the donations from
Biogen; this means they could easily handle our proposed 4 million IU donation.
Manil Shrestha (also a patient) and his team are doing a great job. We asked questions, Believe Ltd. filmed… all good material for the documentary.


Mani suggests we go to “KFC,” which
we all think means Kentucky Fried Chicken. We scuffed across the dusty street,
to the main street, with cars, motorbikes and trucks bulleting past us. It’s
very dangerous to cross. Up the high curb (we have to help one another) and
into KFC: Kwik Food Café. I’ve eaten here before. The bathroom sported a squat
toilet, which is actually hard for patients with hemophilia to use–just think about it. Nepalese food is excellent and we down dumplings (called momo),
French fries, noodles, vegetables and Cokes. The talk is happy and light, and
everyone has a good time.
On the way back I witnessed a tender moment seeing Patrick
chat with Beda Raj, a board member and also patient, and hold hands, which is the custom here among close male friends. Patrick is a rising star in our community: driven, ambitious, articulate, with a kind heart and compassionate soul. He
lost his 18-year-old brother Adam and it has impacted him greatly. Afterward,
we head for the Shanker hotel, and have dinner together at 7 pm. Everyone has Everest
beer and I have wine, and we share stories from the day.
Wednesday
March 29, 2017
Today was filming at the temple day.
It was rainy, which was disappointing, but then the air was remarkably cleaner
and easier to inhale. We start our day in the dining room together, and I enjoy
a breakfast of eggs, croissants, muselix (delicious), fresh watermelon and
mango, and steamy masala tea. Everyone is obsessed with their photos and we compare them.

Then off to Swayambhu, the “Monkey Temple,” close
by. We draw a crowd because of all the camera equipment. The focus is entirely on Chris; making a pilgrimage to this most famous of temples, in preparation for his climb. I feel very much at peace in Swayambhu. The colorful prayer flags
dance in the wind around the stupas with the painted eyes of Buddha watching. Stray
dogs, their tails eternally curly, strut about in the rain or sleep at the base
of the stupas or even inside the arch of the little temples to escape the rain. Bold macaque monkeys leap and swing overhead, fighting with one another, scanning
for food. They are a rough lot; some are missing patches of fur, and one is
actually missing a nose. One baby has a mangled leg he drags about. Birds chirp
and somewhere a cuckoo chimes.

I eventually walk up to the next
level, where the gift shops are. The rain is pelting but I have an umbrella and
water-proof camera. I’ve been here twice before and so just enjoy it all. Other
trekkers are here, maybe German. I’m intrigued as always by the Hindu masks on
display. Jess and I meet up and I film her spinning the prayer wheels. 
Chris is a little self-conscious with a crowd staring, cameras in his face and a boom mike over his head, but who
wouldn’t be? He didn’t set out to make a documentary, only to climb the Seven Summits
for a cause–Save One Life. Shy by nature,  he comes across as
authentic, humble, and people will be drawn to that. So soft-spoken but a core of steel!
I watch the Nepalese light incense
at the temple, and candles at another temple. A monkey bolts up, grabs an
offering of food meant for the gods, and scoots away. They are fast and mischievous. There’s still
earthquake damage, manifested in cracks in the buildings and piles of bricks which is so sad at this ancient of sites. The rain came and went, as we walked about. It took a while to get the tickets, and we stood on a street corner watching all the people walking by. Women with lined faces and colorful but damp saris tried hard to sell us trinkets: bracelets, necklaces, purses. “Good price I give you,” “Madame for you?”

Finally, Patrick, always with a smile and optimistic air, has our tickets and we enter. Old, beaten, the square is a relic of palaces and princes from long ago. Piles of bricks mark the way, old woman sit on wet rugs to sell souvenirs, and hundreds of pigeons swarm one small square. Rob is fascinated with them and takes excellent shots. A massive stone carving of Kali Bhairav dominates anther square, and it’s stunning. Bhairava is called a protector, as he guards the eight directions of the universe. In all Hindu temples, there will be a Bhairava idol. The Hindu faith is very complicated with gods taking all sorts of forms; but the stories are beautiful and the god manifestations are so interesting.
Despite all our differences in culture, religion, ethnicity, location, we have one major uniting thing: hemophilia. Chris, as a person with hemophilia from the US, represents the ultimate life that the Nepalese could one day have: freedom from disability, life with factor available, hope to accomplish their dreams, which could be as basic as just going to school or university. Chris’s dream is to reach the summit of Everest and eventually finish the Seven Summits. I think he embodies the Nepalese proverb “Aim to fly and touch the moon together”, or in this case the summit of Everest!

Off to Nepal.. and Everest

I’m sitting at Gate 11, Terminal E, waiting for my flight to Nepal, and just remembered I didn’t lock either of my checked bags. I never forget something like that. I’m a bit distracted: my head’s on the upcoming climb to Everest base camp. Everything else is packed: climbing gear, boots, trekking poles, layers and layers of clothing (base layer, mid-layers, outer shells), medicine to cover all typical ailments including altitude sickness and bronchial infections, expedition sunglasses, hats, bandanas, gloves and liners… somehow it all fit into the North Face Base Camp bag with room to spare. I filled that room with donated stuffed animals for the kids in Nepal. hopefully it will all be there when I arrive in Kathmandu!

How are the kids in Nepal? We have about 100 of them registered with Save One Life and track their progress through our program. Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries, and yet it has a stellar Nepal Hemophilia Society run by people with hemophilia. For the beneficiaries of Save One Life, we check to see if they have enough income, are in school, and whether they get treatment for their hemophilia. We have many prominent sponsors in our community who fund these families.
Laurie Kelley with Youth Group, Nepal Hemophilia Society
September 2015
The country suffered a devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015; several members of the hemophilia community died. The hospital was damaged; homes left in piles of bricks. I toured the earthquake damage when I was there in September 2015, and realized in the global hemophilia community there is no emergency response protocol or team. It doesn’t happen often, but in earthquake prone areas like Nepal, it would be a good program to establish.
See my trip to Nepal 6 months after the earthquake here. 
I’m looking forward this coming week to meeting our kids again, seeing what the needs are, how they have managed. We raised funds shortly after the earthquake with the massive help of the Mary Gooley Center in Rochester, New York, to help with housing and necessities. Patrick James Lynch and his team at Believe Ltd. is coming on this trip as well to make a documentary about life in developing countries, through the eyes of Chris Bombardier, a young man with hemophilia B from Denver, Colorado, who will be the first person with hemophilia to attempt to summit Everest!
I’ll be with Chris this week as we tour homes and the hospital, and visit the earthquake areas. Then Chris, his wife Jess, photographer Rob Bradford and I all head out for Everest base camp on April 2 with renowned guide Ryan Waters of Mountain Professionals. Ryan has accompanied Chris on four of his Seven Summits. Everest will be Chris’s sixth summit… and that would leave Mt. Vinson in Antarctica.
Chris infusing on a summit!
Chris would have summited Vinson by now, but he was denied access! Why?

Because he has hemophilia–a “disability.” Huh. Chris has a few things to show the guys in Antarctica. 

Chris also has a few things to show his peers in developing countries. The mountain is a metaphor for overcoming any challenge. You can’t get anywhere in life unless you first set your sights on a summit; get the right equipment; train, train, train–success is hard work; map your route; get a guide; then go.
Waiting to see this on Everest!
Go Chris! We wish you success and safety, and everyone thanks you for your heroic efforts on behalf of people with hemophilia everywhere!
Sign up to get notifications about Chris’s historic here!

From the bottom of our hearts and hiking boots we wish to thank Octapharma for completely funding Chris’s climb, and Believe Ltd.’s documentary. While there is no amount of money that can compensate Chris for his time and personal risks, none of this adventure and effort would be possible without Octapharma’s generous support and more importantly, its belief in Chris and Save One Life. Chairman Wolfgang Marguerre has been one of Save One Life’s biggest supporter and sponsor of children with hemophilia in developing countries. He truly believes in our mission. Thank you Mr. Marguerre and all your colleagues, including Flemming Neilsen and Carl Trenz, for your help and support!

If you would like to sponsor a chid in need, visit www.SaveOneLife.net to learn more. Together we are improving lives with hemophilia…one at a time.

The Mountains are Calling…

The mountains are calling, and I must go. —John Muir

What is it that makes someone crave climbing hard, cold, dangerous mountains? Is it the challenge? The view? The bragging rights?

I never knew I loved mountains so much until I was well into my 40s and took up rock climbing on a whim. And that was in a gym. When I tried it outside, on New Hampshire’s Cathedral Ledge, a 500-foot sheer drop, I was hooked forever. A combination of fear, exhilaration, adrenaline, relief, and a huge sense of accomplishment flooded me. I knew very well there was a chemical aspect of this as endorphins coursed through my blood, making me feel drunkenly happy. Welcome to my new addiction.

I also knew that the intense concentration I had just experienced for four straight hours made me completely forget the world, any worries, the future, the past. Everything was reduced to, “Find that next nub to put your toe on and hang on for your life.” It was remarkably clarifying, much like skydiving, or even playing a complex piano piece. Such intense focus actually relaxes the brain when you finish the jump or performance. It’s like meditation.

And then, there’s just something inexplicable to me about rocks. I love them. I love the sight of them, color, feel. When I see a pretty rock at my feet, I pick it up to examine it. When I drive down the highway, I scan the dynamited masses on either side and imagine trying to scale them. When I am in Utah, my rock mecca, I just gape at the surreal world of red, striated rocks that reveal the history of the earth, the mesas, the hoodoos. When I get close to rocks, I feel something; energy? I know some people swear by the healing power of certain rocks. I don’t know about that, but I do know being near them makes me feel connected to earth, to life, to the universe.

My view of Kilimanjaro August 2016

Climbing is less about the view, and more about the journey, overcoming fears, pushing yourself to extreme limits, wringing out every ounce of strength (and oxygen) in you to see how much you can handle. It’s a psychological test set among the most beautiful places on earth.

Last summer I couldn’t wait to jump out of bed once or twice a week at 4:30 am, grab my gear, and head north to New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington for a 7-hour strenuous hike. You finish utterly wiped out, starving, grimy, sweaty, and deliriously happy. That was in preparation for Mt. Kilimanjaro last August.

Now I am training again—for Everest base came, in two and a half months.

Chris Bombardier

I’ll be following in the footsteps of mountaineer Chris Bombardier, person with hemophilia B, friend, and fellow board member of Save One Life. Chris also loves mountains, and he is lucky enough to live in Denver, and grew up among rocks. Chris is attempting to complete the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. He’s completed five to date (though has “temporarily” been denied access to Mt. Vinson in Antarctica due to his hemophilia). Well, when he was denied, he thought, “I’ll show them! I’ll just climb Everest first!” So Chris will be attempting to summit Everest in early May!

If successful, Chris will become the first person with hemophilia in history to reach all Seven Summits.

He’s done five of them: Kilimanjaro (Africa), Aconcagua (South America), Denali (North America), Elbrus (Europe), and Cartstenz Pyramid (Australia). Now, just Everest in Nepal and Vinson in Antarctica remain.

You may know Chris, a rising star in the hemophilia community. I first met Chris in 2011 at NACCHO, when he was about to climb Kilimanjaro with his uncle, and I was about to climb it a few months after him as a fundraiser for Save One Life. He shared his dream and I heartily approved and told him I would help if at all possible. I’ve followed each of his summits; we helped fund one of them. When no funding seemed apparent and he would get downcast, I told him to stay positive, it will happen; nothing will stop someone with such big and noble dreams. And sure enough, the funding for Everest was daunting, for anyone but especially a young man from Denver. But luckily, I’m not the only one who believes in Chris! Octapharma, a privately owned Swiss company that manufactures blood clotting medicine, funded Chris’s fees and travel entirely!

Best of all, this historical event will be captured on film and made into a documentary by Patrick James Lynch, another rising star in hemophilia, and Believe Ltd.

Chris on Aconcagua, with picture
of Brian, a suffering child with hemophilia,
Chris’s motivation

And there is a higher goal, beyond challenging ourselves and setting records in the hemophilia community. Chris wants above all to highlight the gaping disparity in treatment between the developed and developing countries. And as you know, this has been a passion of mine for the past 20 years. I’m thrilled that Chris cares as much as I do about changing the lives of 300,000 people worldwide with no access to factor. In fact, Chris is betting his life on it: a climb up Everest is difficult and dangerous. Chris is taking these risks because his reward is that the spotlight will be put on those who suffer even more.

Save One Life has been working in Nepal for years and we sponsor over 80 people there with hemophilia. We helped provide funding to rebuild homes post-earthquake, and LA Kelley Communications has helped pay for surgeries. It’s a country dear to us all.

So why do we climb? To feel rare emotions—euphoria, extreme exhaustion, deep joy, eternal gratitude. To overcome out fears; to push ourselves to the limits; to do something with lasting impact—a historical climb, a movie about hemophilia; and hopefully to change the lives of our fellow community members who need our help.

And me? I’m going to base camp at 17,600 feet after a nine day hike through stunning vistas (with yaks!), spending two days with Chris, then descending, leaving him to prepare for the climb about a month afterwards. I’ll have some stories to tell, and prayers to leave for my friend, one of the bravest guys I know.

Follow Chris’s preparation and climb on his Facebook blog Adventures of a Hemophiliac.      

  

Putting the Fun in Insurance Education

Pulse on the Road Speakers

I enjoyed a lovely weekend in Cleveland, Ohio, a wonderful city that was enduring a collective sigh over the loss of the World Series. Still, with sunny skies we held another Pulse on the Road with the Northern Ohio Hemophilia Foundation. Program/Advocacy Manager Randi Clites invited us earlier this year and we were thrilled to finally make it.

A solid turnout of families came to hear Kelly Lynn Gonzales share her riveting personal story of advocacy. You can read Kelly Lynn’s story in our latest edition of Pulse magazine, available on our website.

Michelle Rice and Kelly Lynn Gonzlaes

I followed next, with a presentation entitled “Sympathy for the Payer,” a play on the song “Sympathy for the Devil,” appropriate as Cleveland is home to the famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I believe that if we can try to understand better how payers think, we can better advocate to them our need for access to product and providers for the best comprehensive care. I compared insurance to a chess game, and it’s our responsibility to know who the players are, what their moves might be and how to counter move.

Laurie Kelley introducing Patrick James Lynch

Michelle Rice, senior vice president of public policy and stakeholder relationship, NHF, then gave a new presentation called “Don’t Get Lost in Translation,” and shared the various acronyms, definitions and concepts payers use. All this information would be useful for someone with a bleeding disorder to self-advocate to payers, as Kelly Lynn successfully did.

Finally, after lunch… who knew insurance could be fun? Patrick James Lynch, of Believe Limited, and his teammates Ryan Gielen and Rob Bradford, engaged the audience in “Factor Feud,” a new game that allowed teams to compete using the knowledge they just absorbed through our presentations. Modeled after the TV game show Family Feud, Patrick acted as game show host and asked the teams at their tables to recall answers to various questions gleaned from our presentations. We all had a laugh when he asked the toughest question: What were the nine counter moves Laurie listed that payers have made in the last few years? Even I had a hard time remembering what I had said!

Patrick James Lynch

For each question Patrick charismatically posed, the teams consulted at their tables, racing against the clock. They wrote their answers on a white board, came to the front of the room—while game show music played and Rob swayed—and ta-da! Flipping their white boards over, Patrick read off the answers. The team with the right answers advanced an extra logo on the huge Factor Feud white board. Everyone got into the game immediately and loved it!

So not only did the audience of bleeding disorder families get tons of information about insurance, they got to revisit it, recall from memory, and compete to give correct answers. What an effective and fun way to learn!

Patrick is the perfect game show host, and the fact that he has hemophilia reminded me of how much talent and passion there is in our community. After the event, Sean, a father of a child with hemophilia, approached us and thanked us deeply for our efforts. He said this was one of the best information days he had been to.

Thanks to Sean for that, thanks to Randi Clites for hosting us, thanks to Shire for funding us, thanks to my fellow presenters—Kelly Lynn Gonzales and Michelle Rice—and thanks to Believe Limited for all the fun!

Answers please!

Patrick engages the audience

Ryan tracks the teams

The Factor Feud participants
Rob loves the 70s style theme song!

Susan Moore jots her answers down

Who won?