Remembering Renée

Laurie Kelley and Renée Paper, 2002

This past week I’ve been working diligently on updating my book, A Guide to Living with von Willebrand Disease. I feel guilty saying it’s my book—it was actually “our” book, my and Renée Paper’s. It’s been out of print a while, and we truly need this resource. While thinking of Renée as I edited it, I realized that tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of her passing, and working on this book made me realize again what a valuable leader, friend and advocate she was.

She was only 49 when she died, after an eight-week hospital stay following a fall. She had dealt with multiple health challenges: von Willebrand disease, diabetes, hepatitis C. Compounding this was obesity. After she lost her sister Michelle, who suffered from similar health concerns, she decided to have gastric bypass surgery, in an attempt to improve her health. She lost a remarkable amount of weight, but the years of illness had taken their toll on her body. What’s truly amazing is that nothing, nothing, seemed to slow Renée down!

She traveled and lectured frequently. She was a powerhouse when lecturing. I saw her absolutely command a room full of nurses and doctors with her photographic memory, brilliant knowledge of VWD and her deep-seated passion. She spoke with authority, compassion and a call to arms, for everyone to find unidentified VWD patients, get them the treatment they deserve and need, to stop the silent suffering of women. She herself had had a hysterectomy in her early 20s, rendering her unable to have children, when doctors did not correctly diagnose her with VWD and sought to end her uncontrollable bleeding. I think in part her burning dedication and fiery style of lecturing was fueled by the embers of what was left of her ability to control her life, to have children. She didn’t want this to happen to any other woman.

Fiery style of lecturing? If you never heard a Renée Paper speech, you missed some great and shocking speeches. One of my favorite lines by her was when she blamed the medical community for misdiagnosing women who had VWD as being “hysterical,” or “imagining” their illnesses. “You know why this happens?” she would bark out. “Because men dominate the medical scene! And you know why they don’t take us seriously? Because men don’t have uteri!” Leave it to Renée to always use the correct Latin plural of uterus.

 Renée traveled with me to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on business together, and she and I presented in places as close as Connecticut and far away as Australia. She was brilliant; she was fun-loving. She was could be irreverent yet compassionate. She loved animals, and one of her favorite gifts to her friends was to send a photo of herself each New Year’s with a different animal from different parts of the world: kissing a dolphin in the Caribbean; draping a boa constrictor around her neck in Mexico; nuzzling an alligator in New Orleans; atop a camel in the Canary Islands. Renée knew how to grab life by the horns and tame it, and she wanted others to do that, too, regardless if they had a disorder or disability.

 Renée walked the talk: her message was always to get educated about VWD. Don’t let it keep you from enjoying life. Play the hand you were dealt. (Yes, she was from the Las Vegas area!) Play it and win.
Renée was a visionary leader. As an emergency room nurse in Nevada, she saw the need for a patient-based hemophilia organization and an HTC. Nevada had neither when she first lived there. Typical of Renée, she saw the need and figured out how to meet it. She founded Nevada’s first patient organization and HTC, both of which continue to this day. In fact, November 1 is Renée Paper Day in Nevada! How many people can claim such an honor?

 So we remember an inspiring and action-oriented leader, who was warm and loving, and also at times, a pain! And she knew it, and didn’t care. She had places to go and things to do, and a higher calling. As if she knew the clock was ticking, she made incredible accomplishments that continue to benefit patients to this day—including the world’s first book on VWD, which will be re-released in 2018. A legacy like that is the mark of a true leader.

Dealing the Hand Your Dealt: Pulse on the Road in Las Vegas!

I’m in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, the day after we gave another Pulse on the Road symposium about health care insurance. The air is dry and cool, the sky a perfect robin’s egg blue, and I’m surrounded by red and purple mountains. What an enchanting place to visit!

Whenever I am here, I think of my dear friend and colleague, Renee Paper. Renee was a champion of those with von Willebrand disease. She became the face of those with VWD, and advanced care for it, and for Nevada, like no one else. Nevada has an HTC thanks to her; Nevada has an NHF Chapter, thanks to her. Trailblazer, activist, she was also an emergency room nurse who had VWD and her personal story, how she was given a hysterectomy in her early 20s to stop her excessive bleeding and thus became childless, led her to become a VWD Warrior when she was later properly diagnosed as having VWD. She vowed no one else would suffer as she had.

Rewarding a partipant for a correct answer!

It seems we might have another Renee in our midst! We invited Nevada resident Kelly Lynn Gonzalez to speak at Pulse on the Road, upon recommendation of Michelle Rice, vice president of public policy and stakeholder relations at National Hemophilia Foundation. Good gamble. Kelly has VWD, as does her daughter Jacey. Kelly is the mother of 5 (yes, 5!!) and also worked in education, and now works for a specialty pharmacy. She participated here as a mother, to share the story of the birth of her activism.

In a nutshell, it was the struggle to get a diagnosis for Jacey, who suffered terrible bleeding, and who missed 47 days of school in one year, after doctor upon doctor told her it was one thing or another. Jacey had already fought off cancer, and now faced more health problems. Dealing with the multiple needs of her many children, Kelly still was able to fight the system, honor her maternal instinct which told her the doctors were wrong, and push and push not only to get a proper diagnosis, but also then health care coverage! Her insurer would not allow her to use the HTC!

Kelly Lynn Gonzalez implores
the audience to advocate and never give up

Well, that changed eventually.

Kelly is a powerful, emotive storyteller, and her presentation had many in tears. The energy level in the room, even following two hours of insurance lectures, was palpable. Kelly inspired many, I am sure, to rise up and become better advocates for their children. The audience was 60% families with VWD; an anomaly for us!

I thank everyone from Nevada who came to this symposium. Executive director Kelli Walters and her team did an amazing job handling this event. Thanks to our own Zoraida Rosado for organizing, shipping and set up. Thanks to Michelle Rice of NHF, and also thanks to Baxalta for sponsoring this!

Michelle Rice, NHF, speaks about
preserving healthcare options

Above all, thanks to every single audience member. Michelle and I agreed, from the podium, that in 7 years we have never seen a more attentive, engaged audience. (Well, Alabama was a close second!!) In appreciation, LA Kelley Communications is going to make a donation to the chapter for the wonderful audience. When you are a speaker, an attentive, receptive and engaged audience is everything.

Laurie Kelley with Renee Paper
in Puerto Rico, 2006

Renee used to tell me, “It’s not the hand you are dealt, it’s how you play that hand,” using an analogy fitting for a Las Vegas lady. In other words, you have VWD (or hemophilia). So what? The important thing is what are you going to DO about it? Renee was a no-nonsense, fix-it-now kind of lady. She never engaged in self-pity, and didn’t exactly coddle others. But she was compassionate. Not intimidated by anyone, she took the hand she was dealt (VWD and losing her ability to have children) and turned it into a national and then international crusade for better health care for those with VWD, especially women. Sadly, Renee passed away in November 2007 due to health complications. She is terribly missed. I feared for a long time there would be no one to fill her shoes; who could ever speak with that fiery passion? Who would have that dedication?

People like Kelly Gonzales give me hope.

Click here to learn more about Renee Paper, RN.


Amazing Book I Just Read


The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction and Houdini in the Spirit World  [Kindle]
David Jaher

It’s fitting to have read a book about Houdini on a plane ride to Las Vegas. We all know he was the master illusionist (much like David Copperfield, who I will see tonight at MGM, is today). But who knew the rest of the story? It’s fascinating! Following World War I, families were so grieved by the tremendous loss of life, they turned to seances and “spiritualists” to help them contact their deceased loved ones. One outspoken believer in contacting those in the afterlife was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes! He traveled and spoke widely about spiritualism. It became such a hot topic, with so many engaged in it, that Scientific American decided to hold a national contest to see if anyone could prove that spiritualists could really communicate with the dead. On the committee was Sir Arthur’s good friend, Harry Houdini, who did NOT believe in spiritualism. As a master illusionist, he believed everything could be explained as a deception. And he successfully debunked many who claimed to have contact with the dead. But the hardest case was little sweet Mina Crandon, who lived on Lime Street in Boston, the wife of a very successful surgeon. She wasn’t a publicity seeker and didn’t want the prize money. And no one could seemingly detect how she was able to levitate a table, conjure spirits that spoke, command items that flew around the room. Without giving away this fascinating and sometimes lurid tale, this case destroyed the friendship between Sir Arthur and Houdini, made Houdini more famous, and yet reviled by the spiritual community, embarrassed the esteemed Scientific American publication, and brought to light even more bizarre facts than anyone expected! It is a riveting page-turner, extremely well written and informative, full of wild characters and celebrities, and the ending is a shocker. Read it! Five/five stars!

Got VWD? Get This!

I am very happy to tell everyone that our ground-breaking book, A Guide to Living with von Willebrand Disease, the world’s first book on VWD, is back! We just released the third edition, and it is now available free of charge to those with VWD.

VWD is the most commonly inherited bleeding disorder. I wrote this book together with Reneé Paper, a woman with VWD, emergency room nurse, and powerful advocate. Together we decided on the topics, which include learning to cope with VWD, inheritance, the medical system, treatment, women’s issues, and health insurance. The third edition includes important medical and scientific updates about VWD. This 175-page book offers parents, patients, and healthcare professionals a complete resource guide featuring real-life stories.

As most of you know, Renée Paper dedicated her life to educating people about VWD. We were saddened to lose this incredible advocate in 2007, but I think she would be proud to know her book is in its third edition.
Funding for the development of the book was made possible through a grant provided by CSL Behring, a world leader in developing and manufacturing safe and effective solutions to treat and manage bleeding disorders.
So chapter leaders, program coordinators, HTC staff and home care reps, order online from LA Kelley Communications at http://www.kelleycom.com/books.html or call us at 978-352-7657.
This book is a fantastic resource for any one facing the challenges of VWD. Make Renée proud—read it!
About LA Kelley Communications, Inc. 
Since 1990, LA Kelley Communications has been a world leader of groundbreaking educational materials and programs on hemophilia and related bleeding disorders. With more than a dozen books, numerous publications, and the oldest hemophilia newsletter in America, LA Kelley Communications remains a trusted source of practical information about raising children with bleeding disorders. Laureen Kelley founded the company in response to the need for practical consumer and parenting information on bleeding disorders. For more information about LA Kelley Communications, Inc., please visit http://www.kelleycom.com or call 978-352-7657.
About CSL Behring 
CSL Behring is a leader in the plasma protein therapeutics industry. Committed to saving lives and improving the quality of life for people with rare and serious diseases, the company manufactures and markets a range of plasma-derived and recombinant therapies worldwide. CSL Behring therapies are indicated for the treatment of coagulation disorders including hemophilia and von Willebrand disease, primary immune deficiencies, hereditary angioedema and inherited respiratory disease. The company’s products are also used in cardiac surgery, organ transplantation, and burn treatment, and to prevent hemolytic diseases in newborns. CSL Behring operates one of the world’s largest plasma collection networks, CSL Plasma. CSL Behring is a subsidiary of CSL Limited, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. For more information, visit http://www.cslbehring.com.

The Time is NOW!


I’m writing from Phoenix, where a weekend of education and networking for people with von Willebrand disease just wrapped up. The Arizona Hemophilia Association hosted the first annual national von Willebrand conference. Cindy Komar, the very capable executive director of the AHA and her team assembled a great cast of speakers and facilitators, and provided entertainment for the kids for the weekend-long event. It was a tremendous conference and hugely successful.

Saturday morning started with a rousing speech by Jerry Ervin, who shared his hard-luck story and how he overcame many environmental challenges to become educated and a motivational speaker. Then Drs. di Paola and Kouides shared latest developments in VWD treatment. Afterwards came break out sessions, in which I presented the changing insurance climate and how we can protect our access to treatment. Other sessions included dental care, financial planning, parenting and atypical VWD.

25 states were represented at the event, and I saw many friends in the community, from patients and families, and even my dear friend Julie Winton, with whom I climbed Kilimanjaro last August!

This morning we had two great speakers, Jeff Leiken, who spoke about attitude and removing bias from our way of looking at the world, and Pamela Crim, who shared her personal story, from a stroke at age 19 while just a newlywed, to adopting two little orphans from Juarez, Mexico–truly an incredible life story!

Outside the teens were treated to a demonstration by a hot air balloon pilot, Michael Glen. His inspiring talk about ballooning focused not on the fact that he’s a paraplegic (the only one in the world who is also a balloonist) but on how nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams. He was fantastic! I’d highly recommend him for teen workshops (www.rollingpilot.com)

We closed the event by paying our respects to the lady who was the pioneer in VWD advocating and educating, Renee Paper, my co-author and friend. We keenly felt her absence, but we’re pretty sure her spirit was with us.

Thanks to CSL Behring for the funding for making this fantastic event happen, and to the Arizona Hemophilia Association for their time and dedication.

Recombinant VWD Product on the Horizon?


I just received word that Baxter has started Phase III of its recombinant VWD product. The investigational product is BAX 111, the first recombinant von Willebrand product in clinical development.

Currently, we have Humate-P (manufactured by CSL Behring) and Wilate (manufactured by Octapharma), which are both plasma-derived. Wilate was the first product indicated for the treatment of bleeds in VWD patients. Humate-P has been the standard for years in the US. But don’t forget Alphanate (from Grifols), originally for treating hemophilia A bleeds, and now indicated for treatment of VWD patients (FDA-approved for surgical and/or invasive procedures in certain patients with VWD). Not FDA-indicated but sometimes effective is Koate-DVI (Grifols, distributed by Kedrion in US), because it has VWD in it, along with FVIII.

No one can say that America doesn’t have choice!

It’s always exciting when there are new products on the horizon. Please remember too that all US FDA-approved drugs are considered both safe and effective for treatment of bleeding for VWD patients.

The Baxter study will assess a minimum of 36 patients in trial sites in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan and India. Information about the trial including enrollment is available at www.clinicaltrials.gov or by calling 1-805-372-3322.

I am quite sure, that when and if the product hits the market, Baxter will think of a catchy name for BAX 111!

For more info, call Marie Kennedy, (805) 372-3543– I know her and she is a very trusted source and nice person!

Interesting Book I Just Read
The Nine Rooms of Happiness
by Lucy Danziger and Catherine Birndorf

This perky, feel-good book uses a clever metaphor for getting women to think about their life, stress level and aspirations: think of your life as a house, and each segment of your emotional life is a room. Basement (memories, childhood), Family room (family), living room (friends, relationships), bathroom (self-esteem, health) etc. In which room are you? Where do you have the most problems? Is your bathroom too close to your family room? In a sense, the authors are asking us to compartmentalize, ironically a task usually associated with men. The authors use real life vignettes from women of varying backgrounds and situations to reveal some universal anxieties women share, and then applying the “house” metaphor to show how they can get unstuck from their unhappy situation, and move into a different room, and therefore happiness.

Sound simplistic? It is. The book is okay for those new to the self-help genre and studying relationship and introspection; I think they will read it and come away feeling understood, optimistic and less alone with their unhappiness. But to someone who is well versed in more serious relationship books (Harriet Learner has excellent ones), this is psycho-lite. The book is based on many presuppositions: woman must have female friends, you must keep old friends in order to be happy (even if they drive you batty?), women are prone to anxieties, women are unhappy. I found the book putting much blame on women for their condition, which I am sure the authors didn’t intend! For example, why should a woman be made to feel in “denial” about getting older, or narcissistic because she tires of her long-time friends who are aging, speaking about grave plots, and do nothing to engage in life, while she is full of spirit and wants to take on life and adventures? Why is that a “problem,” as the authors clearly state? They insist she needs to keep these stick-in-the-mud friends while cultivating new friends. What is she doesn’t have time? What if some people really are just jerks and not just a result of a relationship problem stemming from “regression,” or “transference” or “denial”? The authors seem to have a psycho answer for everything, and not a street-smart, pragmatic way of viewing relationships.

A cookie cutter response to each vignette wears thin, as do the clichés, which run rampant (oops, there I just did it) in the book. “To have a relationship, you first have to relate” –really? The model is a clever idea, using a house, and no doubt some will feel helped by this book. It’s gotten pretty mixed reviews. Maybe good for novices, but when you finish this, move on to some serious relationship books, as this one is pop-psychology, cutesy and sends mixed messages. If you challenge the presuppositions, half the book is sunk. Two stars.

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