S.T.A.R. Children Relief

Oldest Hemophilia Humanitarian in World?

I flew to England this past week—for 48 hours only! Left on a Wednesday night, returned on a Friday night. A British customs agent asked me why I was staying so short a time—“All this way?” she asked, eyebrow raised. “Yes, to visit a dear friend,” I replied. (And also, I have stuff to do on the weekend here in Boston.) “Besides, it’s faster than flying to California,” I noted. “True,” she replied.
Where does she live?
Bill Boughton, a 91-year-old gentleman 
Not she, but he! One of my favorite people in the world. There are not many people I’d fly 6 hours each
way, and three hours worth of train, tube and express train each way to see.
Bill could very well be the oldest hemophilia humanitarian in the world. At an age
when most people are immobile, or aching, or lamenting, Bill has not lost his
joy of living, his quick wit, his desire to help the less fortunate. He is in short, a marvel.
He is blessed with good health, excellent joints, but also a resilient and
grateful attitude; he appreciates everything he has. And he wants to help
How did this charming and witty elder statesman get involved with hemophilia?
There’s a tie to Romania. He and his wife in the 1980s wanted to adopt a Romanian
orphan, a victim of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, a brutal,
heartless politician who enforced multiple births in Romanian women, by denying
birth control and insisting they stay pregnant. As a result, thousands of
babies were abandoned; many contracted AIDS. During his visit to Romania, Bill happened upon a boy
with hemophilia—I hear this kind of story often!—was impressed by the child’s
needs and fortitude, and wanted to help. Coming home to Somerset, England, he
phoned the chair of the Haemophilia Society, in London. They directed him to me.
So in the early 2000s, I received a surprise call from an articulate man with a
British accent: “Hallo!” he started. And an eternal friendship was formed. He
wanted to source factor, and heard that I donated some. Eventually we were able
to get this boy some factor, and Bill and I conspired together from time to
time to help some Romanian children with hemophilia.
Laurie Kelley and the kid
I loved chatting with him, first, because he impressed me with his concern for others, especially at his age. Second, the man was downright funny! Witty. There’s nothing like British humor, unless it’s Irish humor (oh, that comment would set him off). The fact that I lived in Boston, home of the Boston Tea Party, where we dumped the King’s tea in the harbor and set off the Revolutionary War, was a source of many jokes between us. He called me a “Yankee” and I called him a “Limey.” Or “Irish Witch” to my “Prince William.” Sometimes he would just call to chat: “I was out on me walk today, love, when I came upon a cow stuck in a ditch. Well, I scrambled down the ditch to help her out!” At his age! He still, at age 91, takes a
daily morning walk with his Border Collies Molly and Harry.
the opportunity came to hold Romania’s first World Hemophilia Day in 2005, my company
paid the expenses. And I invited Bill to come and be a guest. It was our first
meeting. Seeing him across the hotel lobby, I flashed a huge smile and we
hugged; I felt like I had always known Bill. He sat at the head table with the
other dignitaries, and spoke about his efforts to help those with hemophilia in
That year we also had our first hemophilia summer camp, courtesy of Adriana Henderson, who founded S.T.A.R. Children Relief, to help children in Romania. Adriana, a Princess Diana look-alike, is a tour de force in making things happen in Romania for children with hemophilia. She and I had collaborated together, and indeed it was she who put together the entire World Hemophilia Day, single-handedly! She invited me and Bill to attend camp. I marveled at first how Adriana pulled everything together, seemingly so effortlessly and perfectly. And second, at
Bill—80 something years old and yet he donned a bathing suit and went right into the Black Sea with the boys, playing, teaching them to swim. They loved him. He had taught himself Romanian! He was able to speak with them.
Each night at camp we sat in the dinner hall with a glass of wine and got to know each other better.
And when they had the talent show, he insisted that we sing “God Save the Queen.” Well, that was “bloody” hard to do as an American (from Boston, no less!) but we had fun. The boys loved all the joshing around.
Not returning to the annual camp after that, I would have a hard time meeting up with Bill. So I vowed to fly to England annually to visit. I’ve tried to keep that promise, even if it is only for a day or so. I attended his lovely 90th birthday party 18 months ago, at the Lamb and Lark pub in Yeovil, where I got to meet his neighbors, friends and family. His daughter Emma lives with him, and she and I have become great friends.

On this visit last week, I flew to London, arrived at 6:30 am (1:30 am EST) hopped the Express to Paddington Station, took the Bakerloo “tube” to Waterloo Station, then the Southwest train to Yeovil Junction, a two hour ride across the lush, green carpeted countryside, checkered with fluffy sheep. Bill and Emma were at the station to pick me up. It’s like no time had ever passed. We went straight to his home, and in the orchard out back, were “Thistle” and “Martin,” two adorable, wobbly-kneed kids, born just two days before. They’re an addition to the ten chickens, two dogs, four cats and four other goats. We had a marvelous visit, enjoying English tea, and immediately visiting the Air Museum nearby.

What timing: the Air Museum is filled with vintage World War I and II planes, including a Phantom jet, a Vampire jet and a Sopwith Camel (remember Peanuts’ Snoopy?). Bill served in World War II, and of course, World War II’s anniversary was just two days before, September 1, 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland. Bill was in the Signal Corps, and traveled the world as a young enlisted man. This visit gave him the
chance to share his war stories, and facts about WWII. We marveled at the exhibits, but I marveled at how deftly Bill walked up the many, many stairs, including the steep ones to go inside a full fledged, life-size Concorde!Laurie in front of a “Vampire”

I think Bill must be the world’s oldest hemophilia humanitarian, and is easily one of the most interesting people I know. He is easy to visit and be with: witty, gregarious, fun-loving, kind, generous. One of my favorite people ever.
Indeed, I was so interested in his life, I asked him once to put it down on paper. Turns out Bill is quite the writer too! I loved his story so much I published it. I made 20 books for him to share with family and friends. He called it, “My Life in the Royal Air Force.” It ends with the end of WWII.

I think it’s time for him to write about his life post war, including what drew him to work in hemophilia and make a difference in the life of so many
children. There aren’t enough Bills in the world; indeed, there couldn’t be. When God made Bill Boughton, he broke the mold. There is only one, but I hope to be like him when I am in my later years: able to travel, able to give, and able to make a difference.

Great Book I Just Read
Night by Elie Weisel
Considered a classic now, Night is the true story of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel years as a Jewish teen who watches the horrors of genocide unfold slowly in his community. He
documents it day by day, step by painful step, the depredation, starvation,
beatings, and separations. His mother and sister gone in one moment, his
struggle to keep his father and he together in a death camp, through almost any
means possible. Once a pious Jewish boy, he confronts God in his heart and
cries out: how can such horrors exist? Where is the God he once worshipped? This
easy-to-read book is deceptive as it packs a powerful spiritual punch. Perfect
reading for the week of WWII’s anniversary. Five out of five stars.

What on earth are you doing for heaven’s sake?

Remember this slogan? It was found on bumper stickers in the 70s, from what I recall. Maybe this was my first attempt at editing: were they trying to say, “What on earth are you doing, for heaven’s sake?” Like, “Are you crazy or something?” Or maybe, “What on earth are you doing for Heaven’s sake?” as in, what’s your purpose here on earth before you go to Nirvana, Heaven or get reincarnated as an insect?

I thought of this bumper sticker when I read the essay submitted to me by friend and colleague Adriana Hendersen. She is a one-woman agent for change in Romania, and has changed the lives of dozens of boys forever. This is excerpted from the November issue of my newsletter PEN. In case you missed it, read on…

Why Am I Here?

“Why are we here?” is a philosophical question concerning the purpose of life.

“I have asked myself many times why I am here, but with the emphasis on here, in the US.

“In 1970, I seemed destined for a different life, in Romania. My father was sentenced to spend his life in a communist prison for criticizing the government’s decision to deny the family the right to emigrate; and we, his children, were supposed to be sent to reeducation school. But we didn’t know that our situation had been receiving international attention. Following pressure from the United Nations and various churches, the Romanian government asked us to leave Romania immediately. It was a magnificent, magical, miraculous exit. We were the first family in Romania to leave legally, not only with a passport for emigrants, but also carrying an American green card.

“As a young girl I never once looked back, or even thought about what I had left behind. I thought I would forget Romania, and hoped I would forgive. I pursued everything the US offered: freedom and opportunity. I had a wonderful family, a big house in the suburb, cars, trips around the world, a closet full of designer clothes. Most important, my family was healthy. Yet it felt like something was missing.

“When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989 and images of the harsh realities in Romania besieged the world, I could not ignore my country and people anymore. The question “why am I here” started to nag me.

“As a child, all I could think of was survival. Now, with my newfound freedom came a desire to succeed. When success wasn’t enough, I started to look for significance. I wanted to give back, to make a difference, to acknowledge the blessings that were bestowed on me and possibly see if there was a reason for my being here.

“I was at a loss about what I could do, and for years I looked for some cause I could identify with. Then I met a woman who was looking for medicine to help a boy with hemophilia in Romania; he needed corrective foot surgery to walk. I barely knew anything about hemophilia, and the little I knew was mostly inaccurate. After a quick and shocking lesson on hemophilia, I began a quest to find the miracle medicine. It wasn’t easy, and the more I searched, the more I lost hope. I made hundreds of phone calls, all over the world, trying to source any kind of donation. It was a test of endurance and tenacity. I had one phone call left to make, the call to Project SHARE. They immediately shipped the factor, and the rest is history. That was more than 10 years ago.

“Since then, I know why I am here. The boy had surgery and his wish was granted: he is now walking. That’s when S.T.A.R. (Start Thinking About Romanian) Children Relief was born. S.T.A.R. is a multipurpose organization with an emphasis on healthcare and a focus on blood disorders. Through S.T.A.R.’s efforts and donated factor concentrate, many Romanian boys and adults with hemophilia have had their lives improved or spared. On World Hemophilia Day, April 17, 2004, S.T.A.R. organized the first-ever hemophilia symposium in Romania. And S.T.A.R. organizes and hosts Camp Ray of Hope, in its sixth consecutive year this past summer, the only camp for children with hemophilia in Romania.

“S.T.A.R. is also Save One Life’s partner for Romania. We have 59 children and adults with hemophilia sponsored through Save One Life. I know most of the beneficiaries personally, and have visited them at home or seen them at camp where they play with carefree enjoyment. I get to see them smile and hear them laugh. It feels awesome to be so intimately and personally involved.

“I never thought I would be involved in charity or volunteer work. I don’t have the personality. I am shy, withdrawn, introverted, not the type that would organize international conferences and fundraise for summer camps. It’s said that we, in the nonprofit world, change other people’s lives. That’s true, but in the process, our lives change too. We have a purpose, our life has meaning, we do things we thought we could never do. That’s a terrific feeling! We give a little, but we get a lot back.

“I know—Romania is close to my heart, and I have a vested interest in helping my people. But to anyone who, like me, is searching and wondering if there is something more than just the fleeting pleasures in life: if you want to make a difference or improve a life, while you improve your own, consider sponsoring a child. Look at the Save One Life website, where many with hemophilia are waiting to be sponsored. Pick a country, pick a child. Put a sparkle in those eyes that look so hauntingly and sadly at the lens. Bring a smile and a chance for a better life. It’s a small gesture that will bring priceless rewards.
I know why I am here. Do you?”

Maybe the bumper sticker needs to simply say: “I know why I am here. Do you?”

Adriana Henderson is founder and president of S.T.A.R. Children Relief, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Romanian children in need. She was born in Romania and immigrated to the US, where she has lived for the past 40 years. She is a graduate of UCLA, and lives in North Carolina with her husband Tom, who often helps with her charitable work. They have two daughters. Visit www.starchildrenrelief.org

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