How one man defies medicine and mountains.
Chris Bombardier was diagnosed severe Hemophilia B when he was born in Aurora, Colorado in 1985. Quite simply, it meant he had a genetic disorder where he was missing the protein in his blood that allows for clotting, therefore, modest injuries or bruises could be detrimental.
Nonetheless, Bombardier’s family was committed to making life as normal as possible for their active son.
“My parents would kindly nudge me away from certain sports, but I was lucky and was never really told ‘no’ if I truly wanted to do something,” says Chris.
Back then, prophylactic or preventative treatment was not regularly used for hemophiliac patients. But as Bombardier grew, so did the medicine available to him through the Colorado Hemophilia Treatment Center. Today, hemophiliacs can inject the factor with the blood clotting proteins ahead of time, to avoid having a bleed.
Chris grew up focused on competitive baseball and went on to play at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. After graduating, Chris began climbing mountains with his uncle, an experienced mountaineer and fell in love with it.
In 2011, Bombardier was working at the University of Colorado Hemophilia Research Lab and was given the opportunity to go to Kenya. While there, he says he had a transformative experience when a teenage boy who was extremely sick was given an unnecessary appendectomy. It wasn’t until Bombardier, and the doctors he was with arrived that the boy learned he had hemophilia.
“That moment changed me,” Bombardier explains. “That was when I knew I wanted to change what’s going on in the world with hemophilia.”
Nowadays, when Chris isn’t climbing mountains, he’s working towards his Masters in Global Health and hopes to work with developing countries on health disparities.
On that same trip to Kenya, he set out to attempt Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the African Continent. Once he accomplished that, his uncle suggested he go for the tallest peaks on the six other continents, completing what is known as the “Seven Summits”—a feat less than 300 people have achieved. Bombardier chose to do the Messner variation of the Seven Summits, which includes Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya and Vinson. He climbed his sixth peak, Mt. Everest, last spring and only has Antarctica’s Vinson Massif left, which he plans to tackle this December.
“After Kilimanjaro, I knew it was something I wanted to do to. I am drawn to the sheer physical challenge,” admits Chris. “I have always been competitive, and I love that in mountaineering you’re competing with yourself.”
According to Katie Batley, Doctor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, the risks associated with hemophilia and mountaineering are strident.
“A basic injury to a normal person could be very troublesome for a person with hemophilia,” Bately explains. “Even a bump on the knee or on a joint could turn into hemarthrosis or bleeding into the joint.”
No one is more aware of these dangers than Bombardier. Which is why he has worked closely with his hematologists to mitigate the risks associated with these expeditions as best as possible.
“We come up with a new plan for each peak, based on what we know the conditions will be like or what elements we know I will be encountering,” he says. “With Denali and Everest for example, I had to think about my factor not freezing.”
Chris laughs as he explains how he would store his vials of factor in wool socks, hike with them close to the warmth of his skin and sleep with them in his sleeping bag at night.
Not only does he need to be an exceptional mountaineer, he needs to be a smart hemophiliac.
“I just want to show people with hemophilia and other chronic conditions that achieving goals is possible, so long as you have a plan ahead and take into account all of the risks,” says Chris.
Of course, Bombardier’s nurses, doctors and family get nervous with Chris’s mountaineering endeavors, but they have all become key components to his success.
“I am constantly in awe of who he is, what he’s accomplished and what he still wants to accomplish,” says his wife Jessica, who spent time with him in Nepal as he prepared to climb Everest this spring. “I am a part of the planning, but then I also get to watch from the outside. It’s inspiring.”
Once Chris completes his seventh and final summit in Antarctica this winter, he plans to focus on some local climbing missions and delve even deeper into his work as a bleeding disorder community advocate. Among a handful of other things, like finishing his Masters, he is on the board of the National Hemophilia Foundation and Save One Life, he helped to start “Backpacks and Bleeders” which takes people with blood disorders on outdoor expeditions, and he holds a day job at “Gut Monkey”, an organization focused on experienced-based education.
You can learn more about Chris’s journey to the Seven Summits and his role as an advocate within the bleeding disorder community at his website, AdventuresOfAHemophiliac.com.