Since the public announcement of the Everest climb and documentary went live a few weeks ago I have really enjoyed sharing my story about the Seven Summits with a few folks that I've ran into. I've really appreciated all the support and encouragement I have received especially the stories from some hemo moms who shared my story with their kids!
As I have revisited my story in the past few weeks I have really enjoyed reflecting on what brought me to Everest and Nepal. It's been a pretty wild journey the past six years climbing five of the seven summits and on my way to number six but what keeps coming to the forefront of the story is how I reached my first summit and how Africa truly changed my life forever. I will more than happily share my story with you if we ever run into each other in person but I really wanted to share it here as well.
This crazy journey began late in 2010 when I was working as a lab technician in the Hemophilia Research Lab at the University of Colorado. My boss had been collaborating with a group from Indiana's Hemophilia Treatment Center on a project in Kenya to establish a hemophilia clinic and lab. She had already made one trip but needed some help on trip number two. That's when she asked me to go with her! I didn't even let her finish the sentence when I said yes! I was so excited to help the hemophilia community globally and something else got me really really excited. Mt. Kilimanjaro was only few hundred miles away from where we were heading! Climbing was still relatively new to me but I really wanted to try a big mountain and Kili was the perfect starting point!
About 3 months before my climb, I attended my first hemophilia community meeting, NACCHO. One of the speakers at the meeting was an incredible woman who spoke about hemophilia in the developing world. She showed images of joints damaged by years of untreated bleeds and massive hematomas. I was in tears by the end but had a better grasp on the importance of the work we would be doing in Kenya. At the end of the talk, this woman mentioned that she was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro later in the year as a fundraiser for her international hemophilia nonprofit Save One Life. It was fate! I worked up the courage to introduce myself and that's how I connected with on of the most inspirational women I know and best mentors I have ever had, Laurie Kelley. She invited me to join in on the fundraising efforts with my Kili climb even though my trip was a few months before hers. It felt good to have a mission involved in my climb.
I trained for several months for the climb and when the time came to head to Africa I was nervous but ready for the physical challenge. What I wasn't prepared for was the eye opening, life changing, experience I was about to have. Once we arrived in Eldoret, we went straight to the hospital to tour the facilities and the potential lab space. One of our teams doctors had already been there for a few days and introduced us to a boy she found on the hospital wards. When she found him, he was bleeding out after a surgery. His joints were all swollen and he was extremely weak. It was clear he had hemophilia to our team, but no one at the hospital knew it. He was bleeding out because he had a surgery without any factor. A surgery he probably didn't even need. Our doctors had brought factor and treated the boy and he ended up leaving the hospital before we left. Meeting him changed my life forever. It changed my perspective on my own hemophilia and what was truly important in life.
We spent two more weeks at the hospital, training and educating the staff about bleeding disorders and how to diagnose the different types of hemophilia. It was a fulfilling experience but I couldn't shake the feeling of how easily this could have been me. If I wasn't born where I was, when I was, my life could've looked like theirs. I finally realized what hemophilia really was.
When my uncle and I separated from the rest of the group and headed to Kilimanjaro I still couldn't shake that experience. I struggled with feelings of guilt as we began our climb. Why was I so lucky to be able to climb this mountain when those living with hemophilia just a few hundred miles away were suffering? As I summited Kilimanjaro I realized two very important things; first, I loved climbing big mountains, and two, I needed to do more for the global hemophilia community. That moment is when I set my sights on the Seven Summits and now it's time for the big one, Mt. Everest!