Written by Martha Hopewell | Executive Director of Save One Life, Inc., Georgetown, Massachusetts, USA
On 22nd May 2017, at 9:59 am, a man from Denver, Colorado, USA achieved what many in the global bleeding disorders community never thought possible: he became the first person with haemophilia to summit the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest!
Chris Bombardier, 31, has severe haemophilia B, an inherited disorder that prevents blood from clotting. Growing up in the USA, Chris was fortunate to have access to medicine that helped his blood to clot. Athletic all his life, Chris was a passionate baseball player through high school and college. After graduating from college, his uncle, Dave Bombardier, suggested Chris come hiking with him in the Rocky Mountains as a new athletic pursuit. Chris was immediately hooked, and has been an avid mountaineer ever since.
In 2011, Chris climbed the first of the Seven Summits: the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. While travelling to Kenya with the Indiana Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center, Indiana, USA, to help set up a haemophilia lab and clinic, Chris seized the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Achieving this peak inspired him to set the goal of becoming the first person with haemophilia to climb all seven, including Mount Everest. Chris also saw first-hand the tough realities facing people with haemophilia in developing countries. He committed to making each climb an opportunity to raise awareness about haemophilia around the globe, as well as funds for his favourite charity, Save One Life (Georgetown, Massachusetts, USA), of which he is a board member.
Save One Life provides financial assistance to children and families in 13 developing countries, who bear the double burden of a bleeding disorder and poverty, through direct sponsorship, scholarships, and micro-enterprise grants.
After Kilimanjaro, Chris summited Aconcagua, in Argentina; Elbrus, in Russia; Denali, in Alaska; and Carstensz Pyramid, in Papua New Guinea.
This year, the time came for Everest! The pharmaceutical company Octapharma (Lachen, Switzerland) agreed to sponsor both Chris’s climb and a documentary film chronicling his adventure. The filmmaker, Believe, Ltd., is a company co-founded by another young man with haemophilia, Patrick James Lynch.
On 27th March, Chris arrived in Kathmandu with his wife Jessica; haemophilia author, mother of a son with haemophilia, and Save One Life founder, Laurie Kelley; and the Believe film crew. The first week of the journey was spent meeting members of the Nepal Hemophilia Society (NHS), visiting a hospital, and going to the homes of haemophilia families. On 2nd April, the team started its odyssey in earnest, taking 9 days to hike to the Everest base camp at 17,500 feet. Jessica and Laurie stayed with Chris at base camp for 3 days, before heading back to civilisation. Chris, however, had 6 weeks ahead during which to acclimatise, slowly make his way to each of the four camps at increasingly higher altitudes, and wait for the best conditions to safely scale the mountain.
Chris described the final hours of his ascent: “I almost turned around before the South Summit, the knife edge ridge of rock and ice before the Hillary Step, but my climbing companion, Tashi Sherpa, told me: ‘You can do this! You have a mission and purpose, and you can make it!’ We went slowly and once we reached the top of the Hillary Step, I knew I was going to succeed. It brought tears to my eyes. When I finally saw the summit, I thought about the Save One Life banner in my pocket, covered with the signatures of the guys I met at the Nepal Hemophilia Society, and it made me think about how fortunate I was to have this opportunity, and how I hoped this moment would bring attention to their need and eventually bring better care to people with haemophilia globally. Reaching the summit was a surreal experience.”
This year the Nepal Tourism Department issued a record 371 climbing permits for Mount Everest. Out of this number, 60 summited, including Chris, and 10 died, including world-renowned alpinist, Ulei Steck. During the whole trek, Chris asked the haemophilia community and others to show their support by sponsoring a child or donating to his Nepal fund at Save One Life. Nearly 80 sponsorship pledges were made (a record number) and Chris’s original fundraising amount, $8,848 (the altitude of Everest in meters) was surpassed by 150%. The $13,000 raised will be used to support the reconstruction of homes, and income generating activities for the members of the Nepal Hemophilia Society.
Chris posted on Facebook from base camp: “I have been able to fulfil my dream, but for 75% of people living with haemophilia in the world, limited or no access to adequate treatment makes it difficult to chase theirs. Together we can equalise the care that all people with haemophilia receive. We can use this platform to fight for change. When people with haemophilia get treatment and proper medical care, the sky can be the limit.”
Next on Chris’s list? His seventh summit, Mount Vinson, Antarctica, that he hopes to climb later this year.
To learn more about Chris and his Seven Summits Quest, visit: http://adventuresofahemophiliac.com/seven-summits/.
To see photos of the Kathmandu visit, trek and base camp: https://lakelley.smugmug.com/Other-1/Everest-Base-Camp-2017/.
To learn more about Save One Life, visit www.saveonelife.net.