Red Tie Soiree

Origins: Save One Life

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

Chris Bombardier giving acceptance speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United by Blood

Madonna Smith, executive director of Oregon Chapter, adopted a child with hemophilia into our “family”

Well I’m ready for a rest! Last week I was in Orlando at NHF’s 70th annual meeting, and last night, at the New England Hemophilia Association’s Red Tie Soiree in Worcester, Massachusetts. And while there is so much happening with new products, with gene therapy coming closer, new programs for our community, and the spectacular movie Bombardier Blood ready for viewing nationwide, the overriding feeling I have after these major events is… this is family. We are truly a family, united by blood.

With the California gang!

As I’ve been in the community for over 30 years now, I’ve come to know so many people, and have watched as babies have grown to young adults, starting families of their own, some also with bleeding disorders. Our family grows, and grows older! My friends and I, all young moms and dads when we came into this family, are now in our 60s, looking back at the incredible path this bleeding disorder family has traveled together.

One path literally is the one that led to the movie Bombardier Blood, which debuted last Saturday in Orlando. To a standing room only crowd of over 500 people at 7:15 am, the Octapharma-sponsored event and movie about Chris Bombardier’s epic Everest summit brought laughter and tears to all. It is a stunning film, directed by Patrick James Lynch—whose name you all should know as well as Chris’s by now! These two young men with hemophilia have skyrocketed to fame with their achievement. It makes us, the older moms and dads, incredibly proud. We all kind of feel like they are “our” sons, or like our sons. Sons of our community, doing daring things for our community. 

Go Here to See Photos from NHF’s 70th Annual Meeting!

I was honored and fortunate to travel the actual path to Everest base camp with Chris and his wife Jess, and share in part of that historic journey. All the while, I felt like the mother I am, watching out over both of them (as if Chris needed it!). Viewing the movie that morning brought back so many memories and feelings of that journey in May 2017.

So much of the NHF meeting was connecting, with old friends and new, with families in need and families who can share and give. And at the final night we listened to music and danced the night away. While blood unites us as family, music unites us in joy.

I wish everyone could attend NHF’s or HFA’s annual meeting, though I know it’s improbable for most. The meetings are often held in the same spots: Dallas, Chicago,

Laurie Kelley with Derek Nelson, everyone’s favorite

Anaheim, Orlando, San Diego. You’ll never see one in Boston—too expensive. Not everyone can afford to go away by air and stay at hotels. While there are scholarships for first-time families, it sadly still leaves many in our family on the fringe.

Laurie Kelley with Kevin Shaughnessy, who she met when he was 12!

And that’s why we have local chapters and state bleeding disorder organizations. Does your state or region have one? The New England Hemophilia Association has become one of the best run organizations in the US. It wasn’t always that way. As we heard last night, when Charlie Dougherty, who served as treasurer and who passed away earlier this year, found when he joined, it was poorly run and $22,000 in the red. He straightened it up, but it took Rich Pezzillo, a young man with hemophilia, to rocket it into the highest level, and not just by squaring away financials. Rich has breathed new life into NEHA, infusing it with passion and commitment like never before. I confess I never donated to NEHA, even though I’ve lived in New England all my life. But with Rich’s leadership and his crackerjack team, we are all excited to give and participate once again. Last night proved it. I sponsored three tables and invited the team at Save One Life to come and experience the joy of this family reunion, and they had a blast, amazed by the comradery and caring.

In many ways, I find I can enjoy our bleeding disorder family simply by being local. So there’s hope for you too, to join this family by seeking out your local organization. Is it active? Does it have programs? NEHA has programs every month, sometimes every weekend! Does your chapter do a fundraising walk? Have a women’s or teen program? Is there someone to call to learn how to get involved?

I would really urge you to do everything you can to participate. Bleeding disorders can throw a curve ball at you at any time, as life can too. This family, this “Wicked Strong Family” as we say in Boston, is here to help. These friends have become more than friends—they are truly family.

And when I attended the wake last Friday of my first cousin’s husband, who died unexpectedly at only age 61, you realize how family is always family, no matter what. I visited with my cousins, who I rarely see anymore, except on Facebook. We were playmates as children, but life gets busy, the family gets bigger and reunions consist mostly of funerals now. Still, we have history and we are united by blood. It was good to see everyone again; I still love them all.

See Photos from NHF’s 70th Annual Meeting here!

Rising star: Rich Pezzillo with Laurie Kelley

We’ve lost a lot of people in this community this year and as life goes on will continue to lose more. It’s at this time that family comes together: whether nationally, or locally. Find out more about your local chapter; meet your hemophilia/bleeding disorder family. Get involved; give of your time or support. We are all united by blood, and can create the family we need by connecting, caring, sharing and loving.

And a little celebrating and dancing doesn’t hurt either!

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