Dr. Morbius’s Rare Blood Disorder

Last week we profiled Morgan Hampton, who works for DC Comics, providing the writing for the uber cool character Cyborg. Marvel Comics has its own universe of characters, of course, and our archivist Richard Atwood has written this week about Marvel’s Dr. Morbius, as he appears in the 2022 Columbia Pictures “Morbius,” staring Jared Leto. It’s available for free with a Netflix subscription, and iTunes for a rental fee.

Morbius, like people with hemophilia, has a rare blood disorder.

Richard writes:

Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is born with a rare blood disorder that has no cure. Since his childhood in Greece, and subsequent schooling for gifted children in New York City, he has needed crutches to barely walk. After earning a doctorate at age 19, Morbius discovers which DNA he is missing. As a leading authority on blood, he creates artificial blood, for which he is receives a Nobel Prize nomination, an honor that he rejects.

At Horizon Lab, he conducts research and sees patients. Funded by his childhood friend Lucien (Matt Smith), who he re-names Milo, Morbius conducts expensive, illegal and unethical experiments in a laboratory aboard a cargo ship that is sailing in international waters, thirteen nautical miles off the coast of Long Island. Morbius, along with his colleague Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), mixes human DNA with vampire bat DNA that he collected in Costa Rica. These bats feed exclusively on blood and have an anticoagulant in their saliva. When Bancroft injects Morbius with the mixed DNA serum, he adopts the characteristics of bats, assuming great speed, agility and strength, and echo location. When agitated, he assumes the physical characteristics of bats, especially their impressive fangs and claws, which he then loses when he returns to calm.

Morbius, after turning into the bat-like creature, kills the entire security detail of eight thugs on the research vessel, and drains their blood. FBI agents arrest Morbius for these murders, and place him in the Manhattan Detention Complex, from which he escapes.

Milo, the true villain of the story, wanting simply to live longer, takes Morbius’s serum and hungers for blood. He drains the blood of his victims, killing them. Morbius is accused of these additional murders and becomes known as the “vampire murderer” in NYC. Still on the run from the police, Morbius creates two doses for an antibody that inhibits ferritin and induces massive iron overload and instant hemochromatosis. When Milo bites Bancroft to drink her blood, Morbius injects the antibody into Milo, killing him. Bancroft, turned with red eyes, remains alive.

Morbius in the Marvel comics version is actually a villain for Spider-Man. The uncredited supporting cast is composed of millions of bats who come to the aid of the antihero. The movie had two wins and four nominations for awards. The budget of $75 million was surpassed by the world gross of $167 million. The rare blood disorder and its missing DNA are never identified, though drinking artificial blood is a treatment that lasts only six hours for Morbius.

And from me (Laurie), likewise, a blood transfusion from a person without hemophilia would stop a hemophilic bleed only temporarily, as the blood is used up. The lesson? Use your factor if you have hemophilia! It won’t turn you into anything except healthy.

Our Hemophilia Cyborg!

We often refer to our guys with hemophilia as superheroes. And so many truly are: whether they survived exposure to HIV in the 70s, or overcame an inhibitor, or live with an inhibitor, or have had surgeries or many surgeries. Their endurance, their tolerance for pain, their ambitions are heroic.

But how about a guy with hemophilia who helps create a superhero?

Meet Morgan Hampton, a 31-year-old with hemophilia, who astoundingly creates the text for DC Comics’s character Cyborg. Personally, I loved Cyborg from the 2021 movie “Justice League.” What a great job to have! In addition, Morgan is a third-year student of Writing and Producing for Television at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He’s working on his Master’s Thesis, an animated film about a young man with hemophilia: “The Boy in the Blue Helmet.” We’re helping to fund this project, which I know will be wonderful. Read our Q&A with Morgan below and be inspired!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

The first thing I wanted to be as a child was a Power Ranger.  And I wanted that for an embarrassingly long time. In hindsight, I think I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. I started making my own comics when I was eight. But I didn’t internalize that I wanted to write as a career until I got to college. Once I realized that, everything became clearer because I suddenly had a singular goal to strive towards. 

Have you always been drawn to the superhero world? Or was this an opportunity that came out of the blue?

Yes, definitely. Comics, specifically superhero comics, are the only reason I read as a child. Novels couldn’t keep my attention, but comics had really cool pictures that kept me very engaged. 

As I got older and paid more attention to the stories and the characters, superheroes presented an escape to a world where people with traumatic backstories, and devastating injuries could overcome that and use it to their advantage, saving the world and their communities along the way. Seeing that as a young person with hemophilia was very important to me.

What significant challenges did you face as a child?

The challenges I faced as a child were more mental and emotional than physical, I’d say. I’m a mild hemophiliac, and I was born in 1993, right around the time they started to make major breakthroughs in medication. Oddly enough, the bleeding and needles and medication has always felt normal to me. Because hemophilia is something you’re born with, this is all I’ve ever known, so there wasn’t any adjustment I had to make. The adjustment was trying to fit my very not “normal” life into a normal one.

My uncle also had hemophilia. He was one of the many with hemophilia who contracted HIV/AIDS in the 80s, ultimately succumbing to it in the 90s.

My mother had grown up watching my uncle struggle with hemophilia during a time when he did not have the same safety nets that I have had in my life. Informed by what he went through, my mom wanted to create as safe an environment as possible for me as any mother would.  But it was hard for me to understand why I couldn’t go out and do the things my friends got to do. I didn’t like feeling different, and that was probably the hardest part for me. So I was stuck at home watching television, reading comic books, and playing video games. I know that doesn’t sound like the worst thing ever, but when you’re told you can’t do certain things over and over again, it starts to bother you. 

How does it feel to be a writer for a great character like Cyborg in the DC Universe? What does Cyborg represent or mean to you personally?

Writing Cyborg is truly a dream come true. He was one of my favorite superheroes growing up, and to get to add to his mythology is the honor of a lifetime. No one ever breaks it down this way, but Cyborg is a differently abled person. He’s got bionic appendages. Sure, those bionic appendages grant him superhuman abilities, but at the end of the day, he’s a person that has to learn how to navigate this world in a different way because of his physical circumstance. That’s something that I’ve always resonated with. 

Now I get to add a little bit of my own sensibilities, living in the world with a bleeding disorder that makes me have to navigate life differently, and apply that to one of my favorite characters. It’s the best feeling in the world. 

How do you hope your film “The Boy in the Blue Helmet” will be understood by young people with hemophilia? What do you hope the message will be?

My film is an attempt to capture the emotional truth of what it feels like to grow up with hemophilia. Aspects of it are surreal, and off-kilter because honestly, that’s what having hemophilia feels like. I can twist my ankle and watch it swell to the size of an orange in minutes. To medicate, I have to poke myself with needles. Some people use ports. That’s inherently surreal. 

So my goal for this film is to make hemophiliacs feel seen and heard. We aren’t represented much in film and television and when we are, it isn’t usually an accurate representation. And for everyone else, I want to share what our perspectives living with hemophilia looks like. We are constantly in pursuit of peace, of stability, and often through just trying to make sure we are as safe and secure as possible, the people that we love and care about can lose sight of the fact that we just want to feel normal.

Where do you think these amazing career opportunities will take you in later years?

My hope is to carve out a consistent creative career where I can work as a writer in many mediums whether it be film, television, comic books, anything really. I just want to write, and to live comfortably while doing so. I’m lucky enough to have found what I believe to be my purpose. So I just want to keep feeding into that as much as possible. 

What message in general do you want to give to young people with hemophilia?

Something my mom always used to tell me when I would get down about my hemophilia and the limitations it had on my life is that everyone has something that they are dealing with. That made it easier to cope with my circumstance, knowing that others had their own personal things that they were going through. It made me feel less alone. 

Not only is it okay to be different, it’s cool. It’s not always going to be easy, but you always come out stronger on the other side of adversity. 

Listen and watch Morgan as he describes his project, and contribute if you can!

Also, Morgan’s Cyborg series will be collected into a book that comes out April 2, 2024. Preorder here!

Superheroes Unite!

I just spent an exciting two days in Phoenix, Arizona at the National Organization Camping Conference for Hemophilia Organizations, more “tastefully” known as NACCHO. Now in its 10th year, this was nonetheless the first time I’ve been free to attend as a speaker. It’s a great program that teaches best practices and principles of camping for kids with hemophilia, generates a tremendous amount of motivation and allows attendees to interact and learn from one another. (Photo: Cindy Komar, and board planners)

I arrived late due to yet another snowstorm in New England, and it was clear the attendees already were bonded and excited. Led by “Big Dog” Pat Torrey, the theme of the entire meeting seemed to be “Superheroes.” Using this metaphor, camp directors were encouraged to think like a superhero: what skills did they have? How would they help and serve others? Big Dog found creative ways to keep bringing each session to a close around this theme. He encouraged people to get into their role by dressing as superheroes! This led to some hilarious improvising, as most attendees used whatever materials they could find at the event or at the hotel.

I was impressed to see camp representatives from Mexico, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Romania, England and India! NACCHO invites professional camping organizations to come in and share ideas and techniques applied to camps nationwide, and then find ways to make them applicable to a camp for children with bleeding disorders.

I was invited to speak about Project SHARE (our factor donation program) and Save One Life (our child sponsorship program). How does this relate to camping? Some developing countries have camps—indeed, I help to found a camp in the Dominican Republic, and have helped with camps in Romania. I also helped fund and run a camp in Zimbabwe, sadly their first and so far last one. Often things discussed at NACCHO are not applicable to camps in developing countries. When one speaker insisted that parents demand clean facilities, and showed a photo of a run-down lavatory, I thought, “That looks pretty good to me!” while the audience winced. When safety rates high here, overseas it’s simply a focus on factor being available. Different standards based on different realities.

The things that are the same? All kids want to meet other kids with hemophilia. All kids want to have fun. They need medical staff nearby in case of emergencies. All kids love to pretend, and the idea of a superhero is universal, whether it is a Marvel comics guy in a red suit, or a Norse god.

Most important: you cannot have a camp without factor, and most developing counties have no factor. Camp becomes a way to attract attention for factor donations and funding; it’s also a great concrete way for a nascent hemophilia organization, struggling to find a way, to provide a program and learn how to organize, delegate, and fund raise. Save One Life also dovetails with this program, as many of the kids who come to camp can be interviewed in depth, and can apply for financial aid through Save One Life. Through Save One Life, we’ve been able to have more children attend camps, or vice versa, join our program. Either way, they benefit immensely!

I’m afraid some of my searing images poked a hole in the bubble of elation surrounding the conference, but this is reality for thousands of children. We sometimes forget how lucky we are in America. People were touched more than shocked: following the presentation we raised enough money to sponsor two children! NACCHO planners decided one from India and one from Romania, and hopefully, this would be a perpetual gift that will come from each future NACCHO conference.

The conference celebrated Saturday night at an indoor racetrack where the attendees got to act like kids! Most went in “drag,” in their superhero costumes and there were prizes for best costume, as well as best camping ideas. I dressed as a cowgirl, and as I hung out with Usha, Save One Life’s program liaison from India, I told everyone that I was the cowboy and she the Indian.

If your chapter has a camp and you think you’d like to expand on your activities, programs and vision, NACCHO is the place to come.

Thanks to Bob Graham for the invitation to NACCHO, and to Cindy Komar, executive director of the Hemophilia Association, Arizona, and to Pfizer for providing all the funding for this great event!

Book I Just Read
Kissing Kilimanjaro by Daniel Dorr
This easy-to-read book details Dorr’s personal attempt to summit Kilimanjaro. It’s a nice read, done in one evening, as nothing is too technical or even historical. It’s interesting to see Tanzania through Dorr’s eyes, as he is a naïve newcomer: new to Africa and poverty. His girlfriend comes with him on his adventure. Failing the first attempt, he is haunted by his own inability to conquer altitude sickness despite being in good shape, and sets out to try once more. A good book to read for mountaineers or wannabes. Dorr is not a great writer; the text is like reading someone’s blog, casual with easy words and short sentences, but likeable. For those planning to attempt Kilimanjaro—like ME—it’s a good resource. Two stars.

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