Climbing Kilimanjaro to Save Lives

When Karin Cassidy, owner of Impact Promotional Products in Lake Elsinore, California, heard that one of her clients was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for people living with a rare blood disorder called hemophilia, she immediately sprung into action. “My client, Wendie Chadd, and her son both live with the bleeding disorder,” says Karin. “I knew I wanted to help support them.”

Hemophilia is a rare blood disorder that prevents proper blood clotting and impacts the lives of approximately 20,000 Americans and an estimated 400,000 people worldwide. While challenging, a hemophilia diagnosis in the U.S. is manageable—but throughout the developing world, where access to treatment is scarce, it can be life-threatening. “People with hemophilia who live in Europe or the United States are able to live very normal lives because they have access to the medications and care they need,” says Wendie, who is the national director of customer service at NuFactor, a specialty blood infusion pharmacy based in Temecula, California. “But in the developing world, medications are too expensive or simply not available—and so children go without treatment and continue to die.”

Prepping for the climb

As a hemophilia mother, daughter, sister and sufferer, this journey is personal for Wendie. So when the opportunity arose to climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world to help raise money for Save One Life, an organization that supports families of people living with bleeding disorders throughout the developing world, Wendie knew she wanted to join. “Save One Life has been close to our hearts for many years,” she says. “Visiting with hemophilia families in developing countries is something I dreamt of doing since I was a little girl. It all came together beautifully.”

To prepare for their August trek, Wendie and her husband, Ric, had to pack their clothing very strategically—and that’s where Karin came in. “Wendie said they needed a moisture-wicking base layer because the hike starts in the rainforest at a low tropical elevation and continues all the way up to polar conditions,” says Karin. “They had to be very selective with what they packed, so we chose an OGIO base layer through SanMar.” Other than their hiking boots, says Wendie, the base layer was the one piece of clothing they wore every single day of their climb.

But before the Chadds began their Kilimanjaro ascent, they spent a week in Nairobi doing family visits and meeting with hospital officials and medical professionals. “You’re visiting people that have no electricity, no running water, no clean water to drink, and no doors on their homes,” says Wendie. “They don’t have anything, but yet they’re so absolutely honored to have you in their homes.” 

The stories of these families are often dire: When a hemophilic child needs medical care, they can’t just hop in a car and drive to a nearby hospital. Often, their journey involves costly public transportation and many hours to get to a hospital that may not even have the medication needed to stop their bleeding. That’s where Save One Life comes in. “Anyone can sponsor a child for $35 a month, and approximately $33 of it goes to the beneficiary,” says Wendie. “They’re able to utilize that money for medical fees, transportation to and from the hospital, education, electricity or other out-of-pocket costs that the family may incur caring for their affected child.”  

Making the ascent

Wendie says it was the inspiration from meeting these families that carried her forward on the climb up the 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro. “Climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done—both physically and mentally—but it was also the most rewarding,” says Wendie, who was the only female in her group to summit. “When I was exhausted and had been on the trail for 12 or 16 hours, it was the reminder of the people we were climbing in honor of that kept me moving forward even when my entire body wanted to stop.”

Thanks to generous donations from family, friends, and the hemophilia community, the Chadds raised nearly $15,000, all of which went directly to Save One Life. “It was very humbling and very fulfilling,” says Wendie. “The whole thing was amazing.”

It’s thanks to community support from people like Karin that Wendie was able to worry less about logistics and focus her efforts on raising much-needed funds for Save One Life. For Karin, supporting the cause was an easy choice. “We never stand alone in what we’re doing,” she says. “Whatever we can do to help our community is going to help us as well, and we all become that much stronger and more successful. Our customers are our friends, so it’s personal for us.”