On May 22, 2017, at 9:59 am, a man from Denver, Colorado achieved what many in the global bleeding disorders community never thought could be possible: he became the first person with hemophilia to summit the highest mountain in the world—Mount Everest!
Chris Bombardier, 31, has severe hemophilia B, an inherited disorder that prevents blood from clotting. Growing up in the United States, Chris was fortunate to have access to medicine to help his blood clot. Athletic all his life, Chris was an avid 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 traveling to Kenya with the Indiana Hemophilia and Thrombosis Center to help set up a hemophilia lab and clinic, Chris seized the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Achieving this peak inspired him to set the goal of becoming the first person with hemophilia to climb all seven, including Mt. Everest. Chris also saw first hand the tough realities facing people with hemophilia in developing countries. He committed to making each climb an opportunity to raise awareness about hemophilia around the globe and funds for his favorite charity, Save One Life, of which he is a board member.
Save One Life, based in Massachusetts in the United States, provides financial assistance to children and families in 13 developing countries who must 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 Carstenz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea.
This year, the time came for Everest! The pharmaceutical company Octapharma 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 hemophilia, Patrick James Lynch.
On March 27 Chris arrived in Kathmandu with his wife Jessica, hemophilia author, mother of a son with hemophilia 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, visiting a hospital and going to homes of hemophilia families. On April 2, the team started its odyssey in earnest, taking nine days to hike to the Everest base camp at 17,500 feet. Jessica and Laurie stayed with Chris at base camp for three days before heading back to civilization. Chris, however, had six weeks ahead to acclimatize, slowly making his way to each of the four camps at increasingly higher altitudes, and waiting for the best conditions to safely scale the mountain.
Infusions still need to be done.
Chris describes 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 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 hemophilia globally. Reaching the summit was a surreal experience.”
This year the Nepal Tourism Department issued a record 371 climbing permits for Mt. Everest. Out of this number, 60 summited, including Chris, and ten died, including world renowned alpinist Ulei Steck. During the whole trek, Chris asked the hemophilia 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 reconstruction of homes and income generating activities for the members of the Nepal Hemophilia Society.
Chris posted on Facebook from base camp, “I’ve been able to fulfill my dream, but for 75% of people living with hemophilia in the world, limited or no access to adequate treatment makes it difficult to chase theirs. Together we can equalize the care all people with hemophilia receive. We can use this platform to fight for change. When people with hemophilia get treatment and proper medical care, the sky can be the limit.”
Next on Chris’s list? His seventh summit—Mt. Vinson on Antartica—that he hopes to climb later this year.
To learn more about Chris and his Seven Summits Quest, visit adventuresofahemophiliac.com/seven-summits/
To see photos of the Kathmandu visit, trek and base camp, visit lakelley.smugmug.com/Other-1/Everest-Base-Camp-2017/
To learn more about Save One Life, visit www.saveonelife.net