NHF’s 69th Annual Meeting in Chicago

“Exploring the Next Frontier” was the theme for the 69th annual National Hemophilia Foundation meeting in the dazzling city of Chicago. A record-breaking 2,987 community members flocked to the Windy City (do you know why it’s called that?)—patients, treatment center staff, industry representatives and hemophilia organization advocates—to share stories, to educate, to network, and to learn.
Inside a blood vessel!

For me, it was my 25th annual meeting, and more like a huge family reunion. With so many friends from past meetings and local chapter meetings and correspondence, on top of all my new friends on Facebook, it was almost impossible to go from point A to point B without bumping into someone I knew!

Brian Andrews, chair of NHF, opened the weekend-long event Thursday evening by welcoming everyone; Val Bias, CEO, stressed inclusiveness and our diversity: individually he welcomed the VWD community, the FX, FI, FXIII, women with bleeding disorders (not VWD but hemophilia!) communities, who all stood up. Val then placed the focus on the National AIDS Memorial Grove, San Francisco, on which names of those with hemophilia lost to AIDS are carved. A touching video showed the memorial, with comments from community members, in particular Jeanne White-Ginder, whose son Ryan White, our own national hero, in 1982 put a tender young face to the scourge of hemophilia/AIDS by refusing to accept being ousted from his school. His stand led to a national movement to better understand the suffering of AIDS patients, the discrimination they faced and the erroneous fear that electrified Americans, most of whom believed you
could contract HIV just from a handshake.
 
It was a beautiful video, and Jeanne concluded it with a heartfelt, tearful speech about her love for our community. Val asked for donations, to raise $50,000 for the Memorial, and by the close of the conference, $41,000 had been raised!
 
The next few days were jam-packed with activities, educational sessions, and walks through the industry and nonprofit booths
downstairs, where consumers could play games, speak with reps, and pick up literature on products and services.
 
Our own Save One Life had a booth that actively received inquiries on how to sponsor a child with a bleeding disorder in a developing country.
 

The highlight of my visit was the Octapharma symposium Friday morning, showcasing the documentary trailer for “Bombardier Blood,” directed by Patrick James Lynch, who has hemophilia A. Patrick shared the incredible story of the making of the documentary—a project of which I was a part! I traveled to Nepal (visit #4) to introduce Patrick and his team to the Nepalese Hemophilia Society, and to watch as the team filmed Chris Bombardier (factor IX, from Denver) visit the treatment center, travel to patients’ homes, and attend a fun cultural evening before heading out to attempt to summit Mt. Everest. I also accompanied Chris, his wife Jess and photographer Rob Bradford, all the way to Everest Base Camp.
 
 
Although I was with them the week in Kathmandu, and then endured the rugged 9-day trek to base camp at 17,500 feet, and then shivered three days at base camp, with 1° temps at night, nothing, nothing stirred me as much as watching the documentary. The full impact of Chris’s sacrifices, the months of training, overcoming fears, and the pressure on this young man to succeed, hit me full force as we saw in six minutes scenes from Denver, from Nepal, patients, base camp… and Chris on the summit, talking through his oxygen mask, holding a banner on which was written the names of Nepalese patients with hemophilia. He did it for them; he did it for us.
Patrick J.Lynch, Laurie Kelley, Chris Bombardier

Over 360 people had permits to climbing Everest that season; 60 summited, including Chris; 10 died, including a world class alpinist, Ueli Steck. Chris risked his life to achieve something no one in history had done: being the first with hemophilia to summit Mt. Everest. Listening to Patrick, and seeing the beautiful trailer, we were all wiping away tears. The human heart has so much potential for courage, for sacrifice for our fellow humans, for overcoming fear and pain. Chris embodied all this.

I worried for the next speaker: how do you top that? But you know, Seth Rojhani, a young man from Denver, nailed it. His story was incredibly motivating and uplifting: being born with hemophilia, then losing your ability to walk after having a spinal bleed, and the surgeons severing your spine accidentally. But nothing has stopped Seth. He loved sports, and with the full support from his wonderful parents (who I am proud to say I know) he participated in many sports!
 
With his favorite basketball team the Denver Nuggets, Seth Rojhani went on to form “Rolling Denver Nuggets,” a basketball team for wheelchair participants. I loved when he shared his formula for success:

Seth Rojhani and Laurie Kelley
 
He stayed on a consistent prophy schedule; He rested until all injuries healed; He visited his HTC often. Seth received numerous athletic awards, including the Bronze medal for his team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel this past July. And he promptly pulled out the gleaming medal for the audience to see! Seth said, “Hemophilia is a speed bump, not an obstacle.” He also shared that his father, Ira, told him, “Think positive and good things will happen.” His belief in this way of thinking has never let him down.
 
When asked of the three participants—Patrick, Chris and Seth—what was the biggest challenge they faced in life, Patrick mentioned losing his brother Adam. His brother never identified with the hemophilia community, and felt isolated, alone. He might as well lived on the outskirts of Nepal, exclaimed Patrick, without factor or comprehensive care. Patrick’s greatest
challenge is overcoming the loss of his brother. Chris’s? Not Mt. Everest but needles! Chris has a needle phobia! And Seth? Being told no so much in his life.
 
The speakers deservedly received a standing ovation for their incredible stories and work. The three days were filled with symposia and sessions. For first time, the LGBT community had their own session, led by our own (New England-based) Justin Levesque. And I am proud to say that PEN was the first publication in our community to publish an article about the community needs, also written by Justin. 
 
Women with bleeding disorder and those with VWD were also given lots of meeting and air time. You can see a big shift in mindsets this year about inclusion in our community. Those on the fringe are now being heard.
 
There were also sessions for siblings and one for men only; sessions about pain management, addiction, and gene therapy. The only bad thing about NHF’s Annual meeting is that there is so much to see, hear and do! I couldn’t take in everything unfortunately.
 
The event ended with a stunning visit to the world famous Field Museum, sponsored by Bioverativ, where families could see the wonders of nature and natural history. My favorite display are “The Ghost and the Darkness,” two man-eating lions from Tsavo, Kenya, which were killed in 1898 after they had killed many workers on the railroad. A Hollywood movie starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas tells a somewhat fictional version of the story. It’s a good story but better to see them for real at the museum.

 

 

Hemophilia History Made: Everest Summit!

Mountaineer Chris Bombardier

He did it! History made!  Chris
Bombardier, the young man from Denver, Colorado with hemophilia B, around 10 pm last night became the first person in history with hemophilia to summit Mt.
Everest! Everest alone is an incredible challenge due to the high altitude,
which kicks in on the nine-day trek to base camp at about 10,000 feet. Everest
is 29,029 ft. Chris has hemophilia,
and faces prolonged bleeding from injuries. He uses an extended half-life product,
which will help increase the length of time factor circulates in his blood. So
many have asked how he is protecting himself: factor, prophylaxis, oxygen
tanks, and great sherpas to help guide him. It takes a special kind of person
to dream of this, train for this, and take on this. And he is doing this not just for personal best record or even to make history, but to shine a spotlight on the huge disparity in care between hemophilia treatment in countries like the US and in countries like Nepal.

Read from his blog, Adventures of a Hemophiliac. What does a guy with hemophilia think
and feel before undertaking a history-making adventure?
Infusing on a rock!

TUESDAY May 16



I finished my last infusion at base camp and tomorrow morning
our team will begin our summit push. I’m not exactly sure how to describe the
feelings I am currently having. I’m excited, nervous, scared and hopeful all at
the same time. I know the next week of my life will be incredibly hard, full of
moments of questioning my sanity and of overwhelming joy. I’ll be able to
witness some of the most amazing views on this planet and also be more
exhausted than I have ever been.

Through the hard moments and the amazing moments I know that I have a family
that is supporting me no matter what. My beautiful and strong wife, my
incredible parents, aunts, uncles and friends will be with me ever step of the
way. I also know that I have my bleeding disorder family from all over the
globe cheering me on and that makes me feel strong.

As I pack my gear and put my boots on in the morning and walk into the [Khumbu]
icefall with only the light of my headlamp showing the way, I’ll think about
how fortunate I am to be able to choose this life and this adventure. Choose to
try and push myself farther than I could ever dream and step on the top of the
world. I’ll also think about all my blood brothers and sisters that aren’t able
to have that choice…. yet. I’ll remember that by standing on the summit and
by raising awareness about hemophilia and disparity in care, we can change that.

The hope is that we can summit on May 22. While I am challenging myself on the
mountain I want to challenge all of you. We already met the goal of finding
sponsors for every child on the Save One Life,
Inc.
 website. 55 kids have now been sponsored since I began
this adventure! Let’s not stop there!

The climbers promoting Save One Life
I would love to see the fundraising page for my Everest climb
reach $8,848, the amount of meters above
sea level the summit reaches. I won’t know if we’ve reached that goal until two
days after the summit and I reach basecamp but that would be icing on the cake.
Those funds will help those with hemophilia in Nepal continue to rebuild after
the earthquake. It will help them climb their own personal “Everest”
and work towards living the lives they choose. I would also urge you to reach
out to Save One Life and put your name on the waiting list to sponsor a child.
There will be more children added soon and they all could use our help.

Thank you all for the support and hopefully in few days no one will be able to
say someone with hemophilia can’t climb Everest. 

Navigating the Khumbu icefall: first steps to Everest

And thanks to Octapharma for sponsoring Chris’s historic
climb!
Visit our Gallery to see the trek to base camp!
Visit our Gallery to see our visit to Nepal’s hemophilia families
Read more about our Nepal trip here!
“Climbing, simply and joyfully, is the way I love the world.” Steph Davis, High Infactuation: A Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity

Risk and Reward on Everest




If you’ve been following my blogs and Facebook postings, you’ll know that we have history in the making: Chris Bombardier is poised to be the first person with hemophilia to attempt to summit Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Risky? Beyond words. I’ve read all the books, about Everest and many other legendary mountain climbs; I’ve read about the history of mountain climbing. I’ve done some mountain climbing and most recently accompanied Chris on the nine-day trek to base camp. Not a Sunday stroll! It’s cold, hostile, and indescribably beautiful. 
And risky. 
Camp 1

Even just being at base camp proved fatal for some two years ago on April 25, 2015 when an earthquake struck during the extremely short climbing season, killing over a dozen people in base camp, just over a small hill behind our camp site.

Today we sadly learned that a legendary Swiss climber has died near Everest. Ueli Steck, 40, was attempting to be the first person to climb both Everest and Lhotse in one climb, and is believed to have slipped while acclimatizing.
According to the news wires: “He had been alone, and was last seen on nearby Mount Nuptse around 4.30 am. Steck, whose Everest-Lhotse climb would involve spending a night in the ‘death zone’ …had said before his trip: ‘I think it is possible but that’s the exciting thing, nobody has done that before,’ he said.’”
Immediately I started getting texts from concerned community members, about Chris. 
We don’t know all the details of this tragic loss. Steck, called “The Swiss Machine,” was said to be meticulous and exacting. He was a world class mountaineer.  I read he was alone, but we don’t know yet the conditions or the circumstances. He was trying to do something no one else had done before. 
Camp 2
Chris is also doing something no one else has done before. But Chris will never be alone, and is also a slow, meticulous and cautious climber. Our main concern is infusing at over 21,000 feet. So far, so good.
Today, April 30, Chris just returned from a climb to Camp 3, which sits at 24,500 feet. He writes: “The team and I have returned from our camp 3 rotation! A great climb today and the team moved really well as a single unit up and down safely!”  This was the highest elevation Chris has ever climbed to…with another 4,500 feet still to go to the summit. “After Camp 3 it’s back to Base Camp for some much needed rest and healing,” he writes, “while we wait for weather to attempt our Summit push!”
Up to Camp 3!

Chris does climb at great risk, and his reward is to help those who suffer with hemophilia in countries like Nepal. “While up here at Camp 2, I’d love to get 2 more kids sponsored today! Please check out Save One Life, Inc. and pick someone’s life to save! Ask a friend, a family member, a colleague, a boss even! Inspire others!”

A humanitarian, Chris adds, “As I reflect on my journey with hemophilia tonight I can’t grasp the true struggle these families deal with. I am lucky to be able to try and climb Mt. Everest while those in the same country don’t even have a permanent home to live in. For me, I hope this climb can have a positive impact on the families here in Nepal and I encourage you all to try and donate to http://www.saveonelife.net/everest-2017.php. The money raised here will go directly to those families in need in Nepal and hopefully make having a permanent roof over their heads something they no longer have to worry about.”
Please keep Chris in your thoughts and prayers as he undertakes this monumental, historic climb on a mountain that requires so much risk, offers so much reward, and has taken so many.
As he risks so much, please honor his climb and efforts by contributing to Save One Life, Inc.  Go to my Facebook page to see a video of Amos, of Ghana, a young man I sponsor, who walks bent over, suffering from permanent joint damage.

It’s for patients like Amos that Chris climbs, and risks so much.

#nepalhemophiliasociety #nepal #hemophilia #bleedingdisorders#everest #climbing #everest2017 #bebrave #secondrotation #camp2#himalaya #bombardierblood #playitsmart

Meeting the Mountain; Meeting Myself

Laurie Kelley en route to
Everest base camp

Everest Base Camp Journal Part 2

Why do people subject themselves to hardship and
even personal risk to climb a remote mountain, or in my case, just to gaze upon
one? I learned on the second part of the Everest base camp trek that when you
meet the mountain, you are meeting yourself. To get to base camp requires
suffering long before you start through hard core training, then the trek
itself with all its deprivations, illness and discomfort, and for what? It’s to
see a mountain that most will never see. But it’s also to see a side of
yourself you might never see. The mountain holds a mirror to you, showing you
inner parts that are not apparent unless pain and testing bring them forth.
Sometimes you are angry with yourself—you allowed yourself to be ill, fall
behind, complain. Sometimes, you are surprised: I did it! I climbed that baby!
Sometimes, you are amazed: not only did I overcome, but I did it with grace and
appreciation.
     These are the things you
learn by undertaking these journeys. But the mountain is only a metaphor,
because anything that unveils your deeper inner self involves risk and
suffering: being a parent, being in a relationship, going to school, trying for
a new job or career, getting healthy, overcoming a severe illness… a chronic
illness, like hemophilia. Pushing yourself into a new terrain, to learn, to
try, to even fail. When it is over, you know more about who you are, and what
you can do, and what is possible.
Chris Bombardier, a young man with hemophilia from Denver,
Colorado, is pushing his limits to see what he can do, not just
for himself but for all people with hemophilia; not so that everyone will climb
a mountain, but as a metaphor
for what is possible
, what can be overcome, and to find out who we are as
individuals.
            
                     
                     
                     
                     
     
Our rugged route for 9 days
Friday April 7, 2017
“… the climbers I know all love life and fight
furiously to hold on to it, and the same restless energy and enthusiasm helps
them overcome the problems of everyday life and is transmitted to those around
them.” Joe Tasker and
Chris Bonington, Savage
Arena
 
I was awake at 5 am in my lovely room at the
“Rivendell” tea house. I had a
fabulous night’s sleep but it was freezing in the room. The
extreme cold sapped my cell phone batteries, and I realized I needed to start
sleeping with all my batteries. I had scrambled eggs and two pieces of white
toast for breakfast. Not much, but I haven’t had an appetite.
            The
hiking wasn’t strenuous, but at this altitude, I still plodded. At times I
walked alone, at other times with Lhakpa,
the 29-year-old sherpa assigned
to accompany me as I tried to catch up with our group (I’m two days behind
everyone due to food poisoning). He carried my 44 lb. rucksack as well as his
own on his back the entire time. After two days, I finally caught up with
everyone in Dingbouche. Tashi, the lead sherpa, hugged me! I made it! “Many people get sick on
these treks,” he shared, “but not many recover to continue the
trek.” I felt instantly better hearing that.
Saturday April 8, 2017
“Snow mountains, more than sea or sky, serve as
a mirror to one’s own true being, utterly still, utterly clear, a void…”
Joe Trasker and Chris Bonington, Savage Arena
Climbers Memorial
Our group of nine climbers set out and the
walk was a switchback uphill for a while, which we all took slowly, with Ryan
in the lead. No one spoke for a long time. Up and up… the mountains were
stunning, the road dusty.
            Eventually
after two hours we came to the climbers’ memorial. These are cairns of stone,
erected in memory of those lost on Sagarmatha (Everest).
First I saw Rob Hall’s, which was plain; Hall was the guide portrayed in the
2015 movie “Everest.” Then Scott Fisher’s, which was colorful with
prayer flags and writing (he was also portrayed in the movie). Prayer flags
flapped in the wind above. The wind was cutting-cold and borderline
uncomfortable.
            After
paying our respects, we walked on, this time more downhill and soon came to a
lunch spot. I only had half of bowl of soup and one piece of toast. 
            Now
came the hard part: over an hour of plodding, up and up. Dust, wind, no air.
Yak caravans broke up the monotony now and then. One step at a time. Everyone
slowed to a crawl. There were a lot of people now on the trail. After an hour
we came to flatter surfaces with low scrub, big round boulders. The walking was
easier. We walked for another hour to hour and a half, and came to Lobouche at 16,000 ft. I felt great now.
No headaches. We crashed at the picnic tables inside, and had tea.
            I
watched Maria eat a Snickers bar and suddenly felt really well.
Jess took out chocolate covered pomegranates and I devoured a bunch.
            Tomorrow
we will hike and stop at Gorak Shep
at 17,000 feet. Monday we will arrive at base camp.
Sunday April 9, 2017
“… Charles Dickens, crossing the Atlantic in
1842, described his cabin as an ‘utterly impractical, thoroughly hopeless and
profoundly preposterous box.’” The Lost City of Z
It’s 7:30 pm and I’m already in my sleeping
bag. It’s. so. cold. My fingers are numb. But I paid
$3.50 for a little bowl of hot water and I washed my face and hands and it felt
excellent. I knelt before the bowl as though I worshiped it! It’s a tiny little
room, just plywood. 
Yet looking out the window,
I see stunning views of the Himalaya at night. The mountains are stark against
a clear, cold night. I can see the Big Dipper at my window, bright and
magnificent.
            We
started at Lobouche, hiked some
steep hills at times, switchbacks, some rough terrain. Yaks continued to pass
us, jangling their cow bells. Jess has severe sinus problems. We stopped along
the way to rest. A slow, easy trek about three hours. We arrived at Gorak Shep today at 11 am. It was a
surprisingly dirty place. We had lunch and then the group climbed a local hill
to see Everest, but I opted to stay behind and rest. When Chris and Rob
returned, even they looked cold and spent. 
Monday April 10, 2017
“This is at the bottom the only courage that is
demanded of us: to have the courage for the most strange, the most singular and
the most inexplicable that we may encounter.” Rainer Maria Rilke
I’m relaxing in my clean, spacious tent at
Everest base camp finally! We’ve all had lunch and it’s 2 pm. Everyone’s pretty
tired, but a good tired, from hard work.
            We
were up at 6 am after a wonderful night’s sleep despite the cold in the tiny,
plywood room. The room was freezing overnight! Everyone seems tired today, or
in their own little world. It was
windy and cold, and we started to ascend. It was a long morning. A two-hour
hike turned into a three-hour hike because we fell in behind a yak caravan and
we couldn’t pass. It was too dangerous as the trail was so narrow and high.
Large rocks bordered the path, keeping us from pitching over mountainsides. So
we plodded: the yaks, the sherpas,
our guides and me.
            My
fingers, grasping trekking poles, went numb from the cold. Luckily my toes were
warm and my core was fine, thanks to five layers of warmth. Rocks littered the
path; this was hard work. I could hardly lift my eyes to see the peaks anymore.
The wind kicked up and knocked me down onto a rock at one point. I didn’t know
it then but I had already lost four pounds.
            At
17,500 feet, we’re at 50% oxygen levels. My breathing was labored as I tried to
suck in as much oxygen as I could. Jess was feeling ill, and lagged behind. A
sherpa and Jess’s husband Chris helped her all the way to base camp.
First glimpse of Everest
            As
I trudged along, I looked up at one point and unexpectedly saw the tip of
Everest. Before it were triangular mountains with snow caps, looking almost
cheery, like ski slopes. Then behind them, a menacing black triangle jutted in
the middle—Everest—with a shroud of white mist swirling about it, like a black
sorcerer’s cap surrounded by ghostly conjurings.
            That
is Chris Bombardier’s prize:
Everest. Despite the strong wind and my frozen hands, I laid down my
poles, unclipped my backpack
and struggled to remove my digital SLR camera to capture this. I thought, It
looks like a minister, wrapped in his black robe, protected by his minions with
their blue capes with white fur tops
. And at their feet, and below me, was a
valley with moraines and glaciers…. A violent geological upheaval that happened
thousands of years ago. Rocks, boulders, ice blocks, all jumbled together in
chaotic form, a testament to the birth of the Himalaya and all the earthquakes
and avalanches there since.
           At last
from up on our ridge, I could see below tiny yellow tents in the distance, in a
valley of blue ice. Base camp! The camp grew closer, the tents more in focus.
The terrain became even more difficult to manage. I squeezed through some tight
rocks and wondered how on earth the yaks with their burdens squeezed through
these same places?
            Descending
into the valley, I finally hit level ground and saw the big rock decorated with
prayer flags and a sign: “Everest base camp 2017.” Ryan and the group were
there and Ryan offered a high five. He asked how I was feeling—how was my head?
I told him I felt great. We waited for Jess.
Everest base camp!
            It
was still another 20 minutes to our camp. The group pulled away again and I
actually got lost and confused at base camp. Where was our tent? So many tents
and groups all staked out their camps. I felt like a penguin chick who lost its
mother and faced a mob of others who were not terribly sympathetic. Finally I
saw Chris and Jess and waited to walk with them.
            Camp
is nice! Once there, we met in the mess tent, relaxing and having tea. Some
euphoria, and lots of fatigue. Leif confided he felt so much emotion at being
back. Eventually the sherpas served
a wonderful lunch. The table was covered with a cheery tablecloth, with
colorful plastic flowers that added a touch of home. There was tea, coffee and
cocoa set out with biscuits. My personal tent even had a welcome mat in front
of it!
            Our
camp sits right at the foot of the famous Khumbu ice
fall; I couldn’t believe that I was gazing on this natural wonder, this thing
of legends. I knew from all my readings of Everest and all the documentaries
and movies I’ve seen, that this was the start of the Everest summit hike. The
climbers must navigate this ravaged glacier, which has crumbled into a morass
of massive ice blocks, collapsed seracs and
endlessly deep crevasses. The climbers begin here and then can move on to
higher camps and eventually the summit. The ice fall would take them over six
hours to navigate; they’ll need to use ropes and up to 12 aluminum ladders over
the crevasses and up the sides of some glacier blocks. It’s a frightening
labyrinth. And here it was, first thing I could see when I unzipped my tent
door!
Tuesday April 11, 2017
The magnificent Khumbu ice fall from my tent!
I set up my tent yesterday, straightened out
everything for the next three days. It’s so cold! When the sun
goes down, wow. So I put in my sleeping bags my clean clothes for tomorrow. Tashi gave me a hot water bottle for my
bag, which was heavenly. I slept at 6:30 pm and woke up at 11:14 pm
absolutely freezing! It must have been 15° or lower. I could see my
breath. It’s hard to describe how the cold is; you take it personally that it
is trying to hurt you. I was awake till past 3:30 am. I heard avalanches, the
slow crashing of a mountainside, a roar that makes you wait and hold your
breath. Sometimes the wind barreled in, making it colder. My breath condensed
on my sleeping bag ridge near my mouth, forming little sheathes of ice. I
hardly drank any water all night, maybe a cupful as it was in the bag with me,
tied up in a dry bag. If the water spilled and my sleeping bag got wet, I’d be
in real trouble.
           I
drifted back to sleep a bit, and finally the morning came. I could only sit up
and pull on clean clothes, then get back into the safety of my sleeping bag. I
had to dash out of it to grab throat lozenges in the outer portion of the tent,
then Advil, then back under the covers. After 30 minutes, I got the courage to
pull on fleece pants. If you told me two hours later I’d be showering
in a tent, outside, I would have called you crazy! But I did it.
            The
sun started warming everything. At 8 am I ventured out for tea in the mess
tent. I had to climb over rocks and down makeshift steps to get to the mess
tent. I was actually feeling pretty good by then. Just light-headed from lack
of hydration, sleep and food. But the others had headaches too.
In front of camp: monstrous seracs
            The
shower was simple and good. Solar-heated hot water in a bag suspended overhead
inside a tent. I felt refreshed, clean and renewed. At 10:30 am we met all
the sherpas, and I realized how
much work they had done in the previous two weeks before our arrival to set up
this camp. 
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
I went to bed last night at 6:30 pm, taking no meds this time. I drifted in and out of
sleep, and despite temps dropping to a bone-chilling 1°, I slept beautifully.
            In
the morning, the sun came out and the temperature shot to about 40°. And I was
so relaxed, after a 12 hour sleep, that I started enjoying everything. Our camp
sits in a valley hemmed by stunning mountains, and strange glacial forms.
Before us, the Khumbu ice fall
waited. 
            After
breakfast was a gear check for Chris and the other climbers and then Tashi set up the aluminum ladder, and had
everyone cross it, including me! 
            The
weather was warm, the food good, the company nice. That day I stayed up till
8:30 pm and then went to bed. I had a bizarre experience in the night. I
woke up at 11 pm, absolutely gasping for air. It felt like someone was
strangling me. This happened throughout the night till about 3:30 am, when I
bolted out of the bag, into the grim, subfreezing air to grab a Diamox. I
had not taken any in 24 hours. Without it, I felt I was being asphyxiated. Kat,
one of the climbers, told me the next morning that this was “Cheyne-Stokes” syndrome. As we
sleep the brain registers it is not getting enough oxygen, and so causes a
reaction that wakes us up, feeling like we are drowning, so we gulp in more
air.

           
Thursday April 13, 2017
“… as a mountaineer the essence of life is in
the struggle, the contest against great odds…” Joe Tasker and Chris Bonington, Savage Arena
I’m sitting in the noisy but very warm and
stuffy, rustic dining room in Lobouche tea
house, where Jess, Lhakpa and
I stopped around 6 pm, after the return-from-base-camp trek from hell, unable
to proceed any further. We were lucky enough to get one room, the last one
left, and we claimed it, even though it was like sleeping in a meat locker
overnight.
Priorities: the sherpas erect
a small stupa for prayer

            I
awoke this morning, our last day at base camp, cold and shivering. I’d be
leaving base camp, and after a three-day trek, be back in Lukla. Jess has been absolutely suffering with
a massive sinus infection and constant headaches for four days. By 10 am, I
noticed three huge cloud formations in the direction we would be leaving. The
sun, always so welcome and warming the air by 30 degrees, disappeared this
morning and a damp cold settled in. I was concerned; we had a five-hour hike
ahead of us through rough terrain in very cold weather with bad weather
apparently on the way and a sick hiker. Jess and I should have started our journey right after breakfast, when
it was warmest and when it gave us time. But we started out at 1:15, very late.

            Why?
Well, there was the puja ceremony,
a necessary ritual to bless the climbers. The llama came at 10 am, sat on the
ground in front of the makeshift stupa and
chanted. Safety concerns overrode my desire to participate or celebrate. I
snapped photos but also ducked into the mess tent to escape the cold. It was
hard to enjoy the ceremony with this trek hanging over my head.
            The
ceremony lasted two hours. Eating, incense, chanting, rice throwing. Then came
Sherpa singing and then dancing, which was fun. At the foot of the Khumbu ice fall we all did the Sherpa
dance, stamping our feet, arms about one another in a circle.
Chris Bombardier practicing on ladder
            After
lunch, I said my goodbyes to the climbers: Maria and Frederick, Leif and Tona, Kat and Meretta. We hugged good bye
and I blew kisses, with Maria tearing up. I was amazed at this daring group of
people from Norway, Sweden and France, all hardcore mountaineers.
            But my
favorite mountaineer was outside: Chris
and Jess had a hard time parting. Both were sobbing, with Rob catching it all
on film. I hugged Tashi good
bye and said good bye to all the sherpas.
Then we were off. My parting look at Chris was of him sitting on the ground at
the edge of the little glacial pool, mournfully looking away, tears in his
eyes, with Rob filming him. He and Jess would not see one another for 5
weeks or more.
The puja: to bless the climbers
            The
trek was really tough. We forged uphill, at a snail’s pace. Rocks were
everywhere, endangering our steps. It took 45 minutes to one hour just to exit
base camp and get on the trail leading out, which went up and down continually.
The ascents are hard due to the altitude; just a few steps up leaves you
gasping for air, your quads burned out. You wait to replenish the oxygen in
your system and try again. We passed climbers coming in, trekkers, yaks and
mules and porters. Jess was hurting still. Eventually we walked two hours in
this dusty, rocky, geological mess, at times not able to see anything—not even
other trekkers—except rocks, boulders, mountains, grey and old, solid and
unforgiving. We came at last to Gorak Shep.
We stopped only for tea; the place was so dirty and cold even we didn’t want to
stay, tired as we felt. As soon as we sat down at a table in the dining room,
Jess curled up in a ball to sleep. I wasn’t at my best either, coughing
constantly and cold. 
        The trail was a wild, rocky mess. I was bundled up with six layers on top, but just hiking pants
below, a hat, buff and great hood. My feet were fine. My fingers went numb as I
was wearing only glove liners and not my ski gloves, which were in the rucksack. My nose
ran constantly, into the buff. I steamed up my glasses, so I couldn’t see where
I was going. Now and then I paused to see my surroundings: moraines, ice hoodoos, piles and piles of rocks of all
sizes and types—some as big as houses. The stunning, massive Himalaya, which
now looked dark and foreboding. The cloud cover was extremely low, as if to
blind and oppress the mountains. The wind blew at a clip, chilling us. I kept
thinking, It could always be worse, so be glad. Just put one foot in
front of the other. This day will eventually end. You know that much.
            The
wind picked up and it started to snow. Jess was getting worse. Lhakpa had to support her and she slumped
to the ground whenever we stopped. Other times she coughed so much she
moaned. Lhakpa held her
head. 
            What
if this gets worse? The cold air, the lack of nourishment, the constant
walking. We asked a Sherpa who passed us about hiring a donkey. But the idea of
Jess on a donkey for another two days was absurd. This was a tourist road; we
had options.
            What
about a helicopter? I asked Lhakpa and
he explained the costs. We made it somehow, the next 30-60 minutes to Lobouche, where there was literally one room
left at the tea house. 
            We
got an unheated room with three beds. Lhakpa fussed
with Jess, taking excellent care of her. He put her in the bed, in a room so
cold we could see our breaths. He brought her hot soup and a thermos of hot
water to sip through the night. He also brought a hot water bottle, which Jess
clutched to her as a mother would a baby. I finally told Jess I was ordering a
helicopter. The chopper would come at 6 am, and it would take 7 minutes, not
two days, to get to Lukla!
Friday April 14, 2017
The night was long and fitful, sleeping in a sub-freezing
room. Jess awoke at 3:30 am, coughing and moaning. Lhakpa was right there to offer hot water, and to compress
her head, which helped. After about 15 minutes, he went back to bed, singing.
The next day I asked what he was singing, and he told me, “A prayer.” What an
endearing young man. Jess and I tipped him well as he offered to us compassion
and help that cannot be feigned or bought.
Rescue!
            The
helicopter arrived around 6:20 am. We were easily up, dressed, packed. Skipping
breakfast or even hot tea, we walked out to the landing site, just the top of a
slight hill, and waited. The red rescue Fishtail helicopter thwacked its way to
us and we boarded. Truly about 10 minutes later we had bypassed all the rugged
trails, the dust, the yaks, the tea houses, and flew over this mountainous and
beautiful country, and landed in Lukla,
high on a hill, the starting point of our trek two weeks ago. The chopper
landed right next to the mountain top clinic, and we went inside. A kindly
British doctor was there, who checked Jess over, gave her prescriptions for
antibiotics, pain killers and decongestant, and in about an hour, a second
helicopter came to take us to Kathmandu.
            It
was here in Lukla that we said
good-bye to Lhakpa, who cared for
me for two straight days after my food poisoning, and who cared for Jess on her
difficult journey. We would truly miss him. We could express our appreciation
in words and in a huge tip, worth two months salary for him. His life is hard.
What would he do when trekking season is over? “Work on our family farm,” he
said. Maybe pick up odd jobs for trekkers or visitors. He has no steady income
and like most in Nepal, is poor.
         
  By 10 am we had flown back to Kathmandu, and were in our hotel.
What a contrast: clean, hot water, soft beds. It seemed surreal.
          And I was
besieged by “climber’s guilt.” I could enjoy for the next few days
all the comforts and luxuries of a modern hotel while Chris and the climbers
slept every night in that bitter cold, had to climb up to Everest, camp by
camp, further into the thin air. But that’s what separates mountaineers from
the rest of us. They are focused, impervious to so much hardship, welcome it in
fact, push themselves to the extreme.
       Chris Bombardier
is poised to make history as the first person with hemophilia to summit Everest. 
In
fact, he already has made history as the first to attempt it. With what
I have seen of his fortitude and courage, he will make it. I’m honored to have
spent the days on the road with him, seeing him in action, sharing a little of
the hardships they faced and will face, to understand the sacrifices they make,
which are huge. He had asked me if we could do a base camp trek with others
with hemophilia, and I replied count me out! But after two days, yeah. I can do
it. I learned a lot about myself and how I respond to this hostile environment.
I knew more about it and myself. I can apply that and push the envelope
further. Yes, I would do it again.
www.saveonelife.net
        And it was a
wonderful World Hemophilia Day in Kathmandu with the Nepal Hemophilia Society
where we praised Chris for doing this, because he highlights the disparity in
treatment between countries like the US and countries like Nepal. I reminded
the crowd on April 17 that the first summit of Mt. Everest was not Sir Edmund
Hillary of New Zealand, it was Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a sherpa from
Nepal. Together they conquered the tallest mountain on earth. Together we will
conquer the disparity in hemophilia care one day.

Thanks again to Chris, and to Octapharma for full sponsorship of this climb. Follow Chris at Adventures of a Hemophiliac on Facebook. Please consider helping those in Nepal at Save One Life!

Hard good-bye: Chris and Jess Bombardier

Laurie Kelley and Jessica Bombardier:
cleaned up and ready for home!

Start of Our Trek! April 2-6, 2017

Sunday April 2, 2017 
Jess and Chris Bombardier
“Do not imagine that the journey is short; and one must have the heart of a lion to follow this unusual road, for it is very long… one plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping.”   Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds: A Sufi Fable
The climb begins! I’m accompanying Chris Bombardier of Denver to Everest Base Camp, where Chris will stay till end of May in the attempt to be the first person with hemophilia to summit Mt. Everest! (www.bombardierblood.com)
Day 1 of our base camp trek started at the Yak and Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu at 4:15 am. I was up, packed and ready to roll by 4:45 am. Ryan Waters, the team’s mountaineer guide, and lead Sherpa Tashi loaded everything into the bus and we were all off to the airport: me, Chris and Jess Bombardier, cameraman Rob Bradford and seven other climbers.
Laurie Kelley in Lukla
The sky was dark, the streets of Kathmandu empty. Security was easy. The flight to Lukla was only 45 minutes; this is the famous airport with about the shortest runway in the world! The flight got extremely turbulent at one point. We disembarked at Lukla and it was stunning. 9,000 feet high with soaring snow-capped peaks surrounding it. My first impression were all the faces of the young Nepalese men, hoping to be chosen as porters, peering at us eagerly through the mesh-wire fence at the perimeter of the tiny airport. It was only 7 am . We walked up the steps and met Lukla.
Lukla is a village, teeming with small shops on cobblestone streets, displaying everything you need to trek. Mixed breed mountain dogs lounged on doorsteps in the sunshine, women set up their wares outside their shops. There was an abundance of restaurants and hotels. It was thriving. We all gathered upstairs at a restaurant for breakfast and tea. I had hot muesli—delicious, and “milk tea,” which is creamy and thick. 
We walked about town while waiting for Rob’s luggage to arrive. I bought a used fleece buff, which I needed later. We visited a monastery there, which was amazingly beautiful. We also strode up to a stupa, to see the fluttering prayer flags with the Himalaya as a backdrop. The name Himalaya means home (alya) of snow (hima).

At last the lost luggage arrived and we started hiking. We walked a whole 15 minutes before we had to stop at the Everest Forest Gate to get permits. A small yak stood waiting. The sun was getting stronger already and soon we were sweating. We went downhill and much of the trail reminded me of those in New Hampshire. It was very rocky and uneven, tricky to navigate. The trail led to a huge valley with a river that ran with silvery turquoise water. Porters dodged us as they hurried by with huge loads, secured by plastic band across their foreheads. Some only wore flip flops on these rugged trails.
Everest National Park
Chris and Ryan watch the yak caravan
We hiked for a little over an hour, passing little villages with shops and “mani stones,” huge black rocks with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum  (“Hail to the jewel in the lotus”) carved into the stone and painted white. We stopped for lunch at a wonderful outdoor restaurant in the heart of hills.
Mani Stones: “Om Mani Padme Hum”
We set out again at 2 pm, over long, metal suspension bridges that sway over deep gorges. Lacing them were prayer flags in the colors of the world: blue for sky; white for air; green for water; yellow for earth; red for fire. Down rocky courses, up hills, always hiking to the left of the stupas or mani stones, the clockwise direction in which the earth and the universe revolve, according to Buddhist doctrine. We were warned about the many yak caravans. They stop for nothing. When you hear the cowbells jangling on the necks of the yaks, you must step aside, preferably against the stones or hill, and not near the edge of a trail, where you might get pushed off!
Laurie Kelley and Chris Bombardier on a
suspension bridge
There is so much traffic on the trail; it’s not at all what I expected. We pass through village after village. A writhing fence made of  thorn vines borders one trail. Above crows caw loudly like old men with a joke: ha HA!
I climb one steep section and am winded! At 3:30 pm we reach our first tea house, quiet though rustic. My room is upstairs, four walls, a green rug, a little table and two little beds. I have a view of a beautiful mountain. It’s cold; I’m sweaty. There’s one communal bathroom for the whole floor. And… I have severe heartburn. 
Tuesday April 4, 2017

We had climbed 2,000 feet yesterday, which took us about 5 hours, the longest day of the trek. After arriving at the tea house, I changed clothes to keep warm. The dining room has little tables around the perimeter, all wood but very cold. All I ate was porridge for dinner, not feeling hungry. As soon as I was done I went to bed. 
Dodh Kosi River
We were up early in the frigid air. I was shaking as I got out of my warm sleeping bag. The hike today was not hard but so crowded! You actually were rubbing shoulders with other people along the trail, trying to avoid the powerful yaks as they passed. The scenery was beautiful. Soaring mountains, snow-capped, rising above the pine trees. The rushing Dodh Kosi river is the color of sea-glass. We became sweaty hot when we stepped into the sunshine but as soon as we hit shade it became chilly. The well-defined trail rambled up and down, mostly up, then down a dirt path as we strolled through another village. Sometimes you even had to wait in line to ascend an area!
We stopped for lunch this day at a small, touristy restaurant, and a border collie collapsed at my feet. I offered it rice but it wasn’t interested–village dogs are that well fed. I had a hearty lunch of rice and sauce. The sun was searing!
We headed out again and passed through pastoral scenes: stone cottages, cabbage fields, women hoeing. Everywhere prayer flags fluttered. At some point I lost the group and just hiked amidst all the other tourists of different nationalities. We did come to a huge suspension bridge, the one portrayed in the movie Everest. It’s over a 200 foot gorge with the crashing Dodh Kosi river below. It buckled and swayed under us, making us feel like we were in a funhouse. 
I breathed heavily and took it slow; my lower back started aching. Maybe I overloaded my backpack? Even Chris took my jacket to spare me some weight. Pasan, one of our sherpas, offered to carry my pack finally. Bless him! Now he was carrying about 50 lbs. in weight while I had none. And still I struggled. Yaks walked ahead of us, blocking the trail and mercifully slowing us down.
After an hour we made it to Namche Bazar, a famous stop over for trekkers. I could only think about crawling into bed. Chris made me feel better by saying that the group only had arrived 10 minutes ahead of me, but it felt like an hour.
My small room had three cots, and… a private bathroom and shower! And hot water. It was 4 pm and I laid down and drifted in and out of sleep. I didn’t realize it but I was being slowly overtaken by food poisoning.
Tashi and Pasan later look in on me, and brought me garlic soup, which they claimed was good for me, thinking I had altitude sickness. But nothing smelled or tasted good. Even water didn’t appeal to me. Ryan came in to check on me and I was bundled in bed, up to my chin, drained. I took two sips of water and immediately vomited. Everything passed through me till there was nothing left, all night long. It was a miserable, long night. The attacks came so violently. I started thinking dismal thoughts: I’m weak, I can’t even master 11,000 feet! I have to give up trekking. Chris will never want to climb with me again. 
In the morning, I don’t ever remember feeling so dehydrated. It’s a panicky feeling. I only wanted a tangerine or apple; so Tashi found some for me, and I gingerly ate them. Ryan gave me an anti-nausea pill which did the trick. Finally I could drink water and keep it down. Nothing ever tasted as good as that tangerine. 
I rested all morning in bed. Later, I joined our climbers for lunch, where I only managed one piece of toast and tea.  Even the short walk up the stairs to my room tired me out. It was luxurious to lay on a cot, two piles of fleece blankets on me. By evening, Ryan came to visit again, and we talked options. The best one was for me to stay in Namche an extra day and catch up with the group in two days, on Friday (their rest day). I would have one Sherpa with me. I felt badly being the weak link, then learned also that Rob had been ill as well.
Wednesday April 5, 2017
I felt so much better when I awoke at 7 am. I said my goodbyes to the group, and Tashi hugged me good-bye as they all left. Back in the room, the last thing I wanted was to crawl back into bed. That was a good sign. And after two hours I was hungry again. I showered with steaming hot, solar-heated water, for a last shower in who knows how long. 
The Nepalese all want me to stay warm. Put on a hat. Drink garlic soup. Have tea. Such lovely people: quiet, respectful, kind. You never observe loud, brash, self-important behavior. 
3:44 pm. We’re back from our little trek up to the Sherpa museum. The walk was hard at first. Slow, slow, step by step. I had to get my breathing right; my quads burned. The stone steps up to the museum are ragged and well traversed, decorated with yak dung the whole way up. Lhakpa, my personal sherpa, is so thoughtful. He took my camera, my coat and hat, whatever I didn’t need. He dropped my hat accidentally, then retrieved it and meticulously dusted it off. The vista at the top of the hill was obscured by clouds but at least I saw the statue of Tenzing Norgay, the first person known to summit Mt. Everest, along with Sir Edmund Hillary.  

Thursday April 6, 2017

Last night in Namche. I went to bed at 8:30 pm after a brief dinner I had no heart for. Just half a bowl of vegetable soup, an egg, a slice of apple and potato slices. Although we are still in Namche, I had to have my room moved, as I was not supposed to be here last night. My new room was tiny, ground floor, in a poorly made shed-like abode. The walls are paper thin and I could actually here every sound, even breathing, of people next door. I read for a while, tried to sleep, but it’s too noisy. My heart seemed to be pounding in my chest from the altitude. I slept from 11 pm to 1 am, then the village dogs started their infernal barking, up to three bouts an hour. I was up for good at 5 am.
I felt better today despite all. I sat outside in the sunshine, waiting for Lhakpa, watching the comings and goings. Finally we stepped out. Lhakpa had to carry his backpack and my rucksack. He’s only 29 and couldn’t weight more than 130 lbs. This was a huge load to carry. But if I struggled with my jacket, he was there to help. 
Then we started, straight up the steps at a 45° angle. I was already winded and we had barely started! I felt like an old car that tries to turn over on a cold morning, and after a few tries, gets started but needs time to warm up. Yaks passed, cow bells jangling. It was a sky-blue day and the Khumba valley opened below us to an incredible vista. This trek would take us to the Tenbouche monastery and eventually Dingbouche. We walked at a slow pace, no rush. 
There were long sections of uphill climbs, through pine trees. We slogged away, step by step. I’d pause to breathe and let porters hike by. It’s amazing how much the porters carry. One porter carried enormous slabs of plywood, four sheets at about 8′ by 4′, and he all of 5′ tall. Another old porter carried a washing machine box on his back, and a rucksack, and another box. It was three times his size. 
Eventually we came to a clearing where I saw my first glimpse of Mt. Everest! Stunning! Clouds fluttered and streamed from its peak like the numerous prayer flags we saw. The mountains defy description. Brown barren rock mountains in the foreground, seemingly strategically placed to lead the eye to distant Everest, so coldly beautifully.
Prayer wheels
Downhill, uphill. The trail was edged by juniper and other conifer trees. I plodded at a yak pace. Except that yaks passed me! The yaks are enormous, shaggy-furred cattle creatures with huge horns. After lunch we clacked over the metal suspension bridge with spectacular views on either side. Even coming off the bridge, going slightly uphill, my quads burned. We saw prayer wheels that turned eternally, hydropowered by the river below it; as they spin they send their prayers off to heaven. 
There was a lot of uphill trekking and honestly we all struggled. Sherpas, porters, women, men, young, old, Japanese, Hungarian, Spanish… we all moved like in slow motion. The sun seared us, but the mountains called us.
 Lots of dusty switchbacks, up and up. Occasionally a yak plodded down, bareback, its load deposited at base camp. I was so slow I separated from everyone, including my Sherpa.  Finally, around 3 pm, we reached the Tenbouche Monastery, at 12,687 feet, founded in 1923.
Lhakpa was no where to be seen. So I waited in the shade, and gazed at the amazing, peaceful monastery. I was amused to see the shaved-head monks walking about in their crimson robes, with Nike sneakers on. I went inside the monastery, removing my dirty hiking boots. Outside, the most peaceful of scenes: grass, stupas, three beautiful horses grazing until three rowdy dogs chased them. A helicopter landed, sending a yak scurrying, depositing a trekker. Fluttering prayer flags provided bursts of color everywhere. Inside, a sole monk chanted prayers, fingering his beads, while trekkers like me sat quietly around the perimeter on mats, waiting. The room was brightly painted with scenes of Buddha.
Back outside, I found Lhakpa. This was not our final destination, so we kept walking, another 15-20 minutes to Dibouche, passing a well-defined and treacherously rocky route, lined by deciduous trees, Finally our tea house, “Rivendell,” named after the Lord of the Rings home of the elves. I saw a big room, private bath. We would give it a one-star, but to me it could not be more four-star! Hot water… simple pleasures. I was deliriously happy!

(Read part 2 next week!)



ADVERTISEMENT