Blog Archive

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Introducing Emergent BioSolutions


A few weeks ago, I shared my admiration for my colleague John Taylor, co-founder of the Coalition for Hemophilia B, with information about his role in developing treatment options for people with hemophilia and how that work is continuing with Emergent BioSolutions. I had the chance to meet the Emergent team at the World Federation of Hemophilia Congress in Melbourne this month and see for myself their passion for this community. I wanted to share with you how Emergent BioSolutions plans to provide a different kind of patient experience, so I asked them to share their story with us. 

At Emergent BioSolutions, we know that living with hemophilia B is an ever-changing experience. It has been a goal of ours to bring a different kind of experience to hemophilia B patients and families, and we are excited to introduce ourselves to you face to face and learn your personal stories. 
 
Emergent BioSolutions’ history has been one of innovation and growth, while staying true to our mission—to protect and enhance life.  As a global specialty pharmaceutical company, Emergent offers specialized products to healthcare providers and governments to address medical needs and emerging health threats. From our beginnings as a private company with a single location in Lansing, Michigan, Emergent has grown into a thriving public company, with sites around the world and several products contained in the US Strategic National Stockpile. Knowing that the government relies on us for these essential products, we take the responsibility seriously and are proud to participate in helping protect this great country.

Our role as a major supplier to the US government has enabled our expansion into other therapeutic areas. In 2014 we acquired Cangene Corporation, bringing to Emergent over 45 years of experience in providing specialized therapies for the treatment of rare diseases and blood disorders.

Emergent BioSolutions is a different type of company, and we are determined to make a difference for people with hemophilia B and those who care for them. Our long-standing history of providing treatments for people with rare conditions is matched by our focus on improving the lives of these small patient populations. Our continued efforts in these areas have led us to develop the kind of experience necessary to make a positive impact on the hemophilia B community.

Over the course of the last year, Emergent has been passionate about meeting the hemophilia B community and learning all of the incredible stories that families have kindly shared with us. At the National Hemophilia Foundation Annual Meeting in Anaheim, our booth featured a “Make Your Mark” experience, which allowed patients to create a personal hemophilia thumbprint that told their unique story.  

Just recently, Emergent traveled to Australia to participate in the WFH World Congress—the largest international meeting for the global bleeding disorders community. There, we learned more about the needs of patients and their families to help us make a difference in the lives of those in the hemophilia B community.

We have been so touched and impressed by all of the personal stories that patients and their families shared with us this year. We are excited to carry on the important work started by John Taylor, and we are proud to continue bringing his vision to life.

You can learn more about Emergent BioSolutions and register for updates at www.ebsi.com/hemophiliab.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Risks and Rewards

Laurie Kelley: Thumbs up
I love taking risks. Getting that adrenaline going; seeing how far I can push myself. There's a great quote and I don't know who said it: We don't know who we are until we see what we can do. From going to graduate school on my own, to skydiving, to cooking (seriously), I love taking risks.

Today I went bungee jumping for the first time ever, in Queenstown, New Zealand, following the WFH Congress in Australia, because I've already done the skydiving thing many times, and then there was that gorilla in Rwanda last month...

So 439 feet over a canyon I leaped into the air, executing a perfect swan dive into nothingness, and enjoyed the air pushing against my face, roaring in my ears, the earth rushing up to greet me... then boing! I am gently pulled back from the earth and tossed upward, the way a seal might toss up a fish to swallow; down again slower, then back up again, hanging upside down. I yank a cord attached to my feet and instantly I am upright, and the guys switch on the wench that will haul me up to the platform.


I loved that first jump so much, I did another one right afterward. The guys on the platform loved that. Everyone else had left. Risk? Some, I guess. Reward? Bragging rights, and a massive, pulsating adrenaline rush that you can't get too many places on earth.

Barry Haarde: Legend, risk taker, reward giver!
Yahoo! Swan dive over the canyon
Well, I'm not the only one in the community who loves risk. Barry Haarde (surely you have heard of the Barry Haarde?) just finished on Saturday his third coast to coast ride, on a bike, racking up about one hundred miles a day. A day. A day! I did 100+ miles on a bike last September in one day and it just about killed me. Despite having hemophilia, HIV and a knee contracture, Barry is a human machine. I can't imagine what his physicians must think of him. He must shame them; you can't get fitter than he is, I suspect.

There are lots of risks for Barry on the ride: physical problems like bleeds, injuries, illness. Logistical ones like accidents, bike problems. And psychological: what if he didn't finish? Oh, the humiliation! But he did finish. He always finishes.

His reward? He goes down in history. He's a celebrity. He's a cool, righteous dude. He's a role model for thousands of young people with hemophilia and a few older ones who have hemophilia and/or joint damage. Heck, he's my role model. Dreams can come true. You're never too old. Never quit. Think of all the cliches... they're true!

And Barry posted on Facebook each day, as on previous rides, photos of those who died from contaminated blood, injected through their clotting factor. Intangible rewards: people who will never be forgotten, thanks to Barry. This included his own brother John.

And... tangible rewards for hundreds who will never know Barry, and never even know what he did. Barry raised over $45,000 for Save One Life (http://www.saveonelife.net), the nonprofit I founded to help kids with hemophilia in developing countries. For these kids, each day is a risk. They may not make it to the next without clotting factor. We're here to help them get through childhood, because each child matters.

Barry writes on Facebook:


Yahoo! Risk has its rewards
"Wheels for the World III" is now complete and our fundraising goal was met! We wish to thank all those who made our ride a success, who include (but are not limited to) our corporate sponsors, Baxter, Bayer, Alliance and Matrix Pharmacies, King BioMed, Colburn-Keenan, our many grass roots donors, America By Bicycle's fabulous staff, my managers at HP for arranging the time off to complete the ride, and especially, Ken Baxter, for the countless hours spent on photo/video editing, phoning media outlets, and travelling all the way down to L.A. to document my departure. Thank you all and see you next year!!




Next year? Oh my gosh, that means he's going to do it again! I also need to find a risky venture. Bungee jumping was a 30 second adventure while Barry's was one month! Maybe I will ride with Barry. That would be the greatest reward.

Thank you, Barry! From the bottom of my heart, which at one point was deep in a canyon today.

 http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/05/prweb11818820.htm
http://www.wsav.com/story/25539876/physical-challenges-dont-stop-man-from-incredible-bike-trip


Monday, May 12, 2014

Management of Hemophilia with No or Limited Factor


 Greetings from Down Under!

I’m attending the World Federation of Hemophilia Congress in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been attending these since 1996, when it seemed I knew everyone, and now, with 4,000 attending from 128 countries, it’s at once hard to see familiar faces, and yet, that’s a positive side effect of the success of the WFH’s outreach to so many patients, physicians and partner organizations globally.

Aung from Myanmar: The face of
hemophilia in the Third World
The opening plenary yesterday, led by WFH president Alain Weill, welcomed everyone, and provided some surprises.

My concern is always access to product for those in developing countries. Indeed, in the opening ceremony Sunday night, Weill announced something to the effect that this was a great time in hemophilia, a great era. Treatment for all! That’s the slogan. Well, yes and no. Not if you’re a child in the heart of Africa.

But there was great news at the plenary Monday morning. Weill said that since 1996 WFH has distributed 248 million IUs of product in 86 countries, helping about 90,000 people with bleeding disorders. (I’m proud to note that Project SHARE, a program run by two people, me and Zoraida, has distributed since 2002 about 60 million IU to about 55 countries) Weill announced some amazing product donation pledges: Biogen Idec and Sobi have agreed to donate 500 million IUs of factor over the next five years to WFH’s Humanitarian Aid Program. Grifols committed to 60 million IUs over a three-year period. And the Italian Centro Nazionale Sangue (CNS) announced donations of up to 30 million IUs of factor VIII per year over a five-year period.
Alain Weill and Dr. Gabriele
from CNS Italy 

As the Soci CEO said, we want to stop thinking of donating product at the end of the day, and make it the first thing we think about in the morning. In other words, this will allow WFH to plan strategically how to use product donations to improve care, rather than leaving it to act in crisis mode (which is often how Project SHARE operates, and it’s difficult to operate like that). So the donations will be charity used with a strategic purpose to enhance development. Awesome.

I attended an interesting meeting called the Management of Hemophilia with No or Limited CFCs, with Carlos Gaitan Fitch of Mexico as facilitator. Four speakers presented how they manage hemophilia with little or no factor.

Ricarte Felipe, new president of HAPLOS of the Philippines, age 50, reviewed his life growing up without factor. He spoke from a wheelchair that day, and from which he was confined for 3-7 years of his young life. He was diagnosed at age 8 with hemophilia A. At age 12 lost his left eyesight in an accident. Yet he managed to get a college diploma despite the challenges. Only in 1986 was he started to be infused with plasma and cryo. In 1988 he received his first infusion of factor due to a tooth extraction. What a survivor!

He shared that factor in the Philippines is $100 for a 300 IU vial. And while in 2010-2013, he was treated mostly with CFC (clotting factor concentrate), factor is not available much in the Philippines. The government does not buy it. And it is so expensive, most families cannot afford it.

So how do Filipinos manage? Support from HAPLOS consists of psychosocial workshops, camps, workshops, and “Mass healing,” where attendees at church pray for the patients.

Zoraida Rosado and Agnes Nalubiri
of Uganda
What was sadly missing from this touching account was this: what is HAPLOS doing to secure factor, to change the destiny of the children being born right now with hemophilia in the Philippines? It’s difficult to listen to the suffering, especially from a leader, and not hear about what is that organization going to do to change this.

Dr. Gilian Wharfe, University of West Indies, Jamaica, also presented. I’ve known Dr. Wharfe for many years and have visited Jamaica twice to meet with her and the patients. She clearly laid out the issues facing Jamaica: high unemployment, stagnant economy, inflation, and factor costing $ .50 per unit, beyond what parents can pay (we know; they contact us regularly), makes it impossible for the government to consider putting factor in the federal budget. The only access to factor is from donations.

Laurie Kelley with long time friends Massod Fareed Malik
and Deon York, each presidents of their country's hemophilia
organizaiton (Pakistan, New Zealand)
With approximately 200 patients, and only one HTC at UHWI (which is not a public hospital; the patients must pay), one national blood transfusion center and  several collection centers, Jamaica struggles to provide care to hemophilia patients. The stopgap measures for care include: prevention of bleeds, early treatment of bleeds (How can you do that with limited access to factor, distances to travel, long waits for cryo or FFP to be thawed, etc?) and educating patients about how to avoid bleeds and recognize bleeds early.

It was a rather bleak assessment, and a classic example of life in the developing world with hemophilia. You have to admire the physicians like Dr. Wharfe who must practice under these conditions.

Dr. Daniel Hart, hematologist at Barts and The London School of Medicine, spoke about his experiences twinning with Bangladesh and The Royal London Hospital Haemophilia Centre. It was an excellent summary about how twinning can help slowly transform a country. Twinning means the medical center in a developed country pairs with one in a developing to share best practices and hopefully, to help resource the less developed center.

Aussies Steve Russell and Fred Wensing help Aung of Myanmar
to attend the Congress and buy a wheelchair to take home
Dr. Hart described how Bangladesh uses “.001 IU per capita,” compared to 5.8 IU per capita in Australia.  Numbers like these give hard, cold facts to global factor disparity. He covered a lot of ground in his talk, but what stuck out were two things:

1. Diagnostic accuracy is fundamental, as well as access to expertise, advocacy (really important—hitting up the government, emergency centers, pushing the national hemophilia standards everywhere), and patient and physician education.

2. Perspective: Hart showed an old trailer in an old photo, and said this was how the treatment center in London, now a world class center, started. In just an old trailer. His photos progressed to a high-end sports car!

So conditions now do not have to persist over time. Treatment can improve. But… and the Philippines should heed this… you cannot get anywhere if you don’t fix up the trailer. Advocacy is a must—pushing the national agenda, having a strategy, and first knowing what you want.

And everyone wants factor. Trust me.

Laurie Kelley with friends Richard and Lynley Scott of
New Zealand
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Sunday, May 04, 2014

A Promising Future with Hemophilia B


I’ve always been an admirer of John Taylor, and I’ve known him since both our boys with hemophilia were born in the 1980s. His story is so inspiring! I am pleased to share some of his trials and triumphs, as well as his outlook on hemophilia B and the factor IX product he is helping to bring to market. 


------------------------------------------------------------------------
John Taylor Sr.
by John Taylor Sr.

Nearly 25 years ago when our son, John Taylor Jr., was born, my wife Joyce and I were informed that he had hemophilia B. This diagnosis changed our lives. When your child has hemophilia, it’s all encompassing. As a family, you struggle through it every day. But what started as an unknown, daunting journey has developed into an expedition of hope.

In 1990, we were told that there were few treatment options for John. Determined to find the right treatment and support for ourselves and other families coping with hemophilia B, we reached out to the scientific community. This quest led me to incredible passages in life—founding the Coalition for Hemophilia B in 1990, becoming an activist for FDA approval of additional factor treatments, and starting a company dedicated to advancing access to hemophilia B treatment.

That company was called Inspiration Biopharmaceuticals, which our family co-founded with Scott Martin, another father of a son with hemophilia. Our mission was to bring product choice and access to the hemophilia B communityBecause we understood the impact of this condition on our own families—as well as many other families we met also coping with hemophilia—we were determined to start a company that would address the concerns we were all living with. Thanks in part to our work, a lot has changed for families living with hemophilia B.

When Emergent BioSolutions, a company whose goal is to improve the lives of people with rare conditions, acquired the recombinant Factor IX we were developing, families felt empowered knowing that there was now a company that was working directly for us. 

One demand that is finally being addressed by pharmaceutical companies is treatment choice. Soon, people with hemophilia B will have even more product choices for bleed control and prevention than ever before.

One product I am particularly excited about is IB1001, from Emergent BioSolutions. IB1001 is a recombinant factor IX product that began development at Inspiration Biopharmaceuticals.
I am so proud to see Emergent continue the work we began at Inspiration, and to know that they are seeking to gain approval for IB1001. Emergent’s focus on developing treatments for rare conditions and blood disorders and their experience in addressing the needs of small patient populations makes them a welcomed addition to the companies serving the hemophilia B community.

Emergent’s mission is simple—to protect and enhance life.  Although they are new to the hemophilia community, their commitment to IB1001 and to improving the lives of patients with hemophilia B makes me eager to see them bring to market a product I believe in so strongly.

When I reflect on this journey, I can honestly say that every stop along the way—and every person I’ve met from our community—have added incredible value to my life. My son and this amazing community have given me the drive and determination to keep going. When a company like Emergent comes along and commits to understanding and responding to the needs of the hemophilia B community, I can confidently say that my journey has been worthwhile. With dedication and the commitment that come from having lived with the condition, and a thorough knowledge of our community, we are proud to have been part of the development of a new recombinant factor IX product. Standing with you, from a family like yours. This is a journey we are taking with all of you.


 John’s work on behalf of the hemophilia B community continues to make a positive impact. If you’d like to learn more about IB1001, the product he helped develop, and Emergent BioSolutions’ efforts to finish the work John began, please visit www.ebsi.com/hemophiliab. To learn more about the Coalition for Hemophilia B, visit http://coalitionforhemophiliab.org

This is a sponsored public awareness notice.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Gorillas in the Mist... and Mud (Rwanda Part 2)


Sunday April 20, 2014 Easter

Maureen Miruka and I ate a hearty breakfast, which is quite good at the Luxury Hotel Rwanda in Kigali: scrambled eggs, fresh pineapple, Africa tea (with freshly ground ginger which gives it a kick). Lucian, our driver, arrived and whisked us away to see the two famous memorial churches, where thousands were massacred in the genocide. The Genocide happened 20 years ago, from April 6 through July. Over 800,000 died in three months, in the most brutal ways possible, Hutu vs. Tutsi, with the Hutu extremists trying to exterminate the Tutsis, which they called inyenzi—“cockroaches.”

Laurie Kelley at the Eternal Flame
The first church is Nytarama, where 5,000 died. It is a small brick structure, a deep red, color of the earth of Rwanda. How can so small a building hold the sadness of the eternity?

Everything was solemn and respectful of the dead. Our guide was a pretty Rwandan lady, who was 36 but looked much younger; she was 16 when the genocide took place. We were told not to take photos, but she relented and I tipped her well. The Eternal Flame was slightly pitiful; just a tiki torch that someone fills now and then with oil. Inside the church it was breathtakingly horrid. The first sense is how small and dark the church is; then the smothering feeling as you see skulls and femurs and pelvises to your right neatly stacked on shelves as you enter, and then the actual clothing of the victims, dried and stiff with their 20-year-old blood, piled on the rafters, hanging over your head. It feels suffocating. There is an odd smell, a thickness to the air.

Fresh flowers wrapped in cellophane are placed by relatives on coffins that line the center aisle. At least some of the victims are remembered. What horrors took place in this church; what suffering. And their crime? They were Tutsis. Children were forced to watch their mothers be raped. Children killed children; pregnant women were disemboweled. On another shelf, some of the victims’ belongings, including one identification document stating that the victim was Hutu.

I look at the skulls, some of them children. Who were you? A man, a woman? Did you have a family? Such horrors. Whole families were removed from the face of the earth and for all time. No one will ever recall them, show videos or photos of them or build a memorial or scholarship in their name. It’s as though they never existed.

Grenades blew holes in the wall into which more grenades were thrown. Machetes hacked to death the innocents. In an adjoining building, the children’s Bible study room, a large red stain on the wall was a ghastley memorial to where children were bashed against the brick and left to die. The kitchen was the most terrible as it looked exactly as it had that day when fire decimated it. Everything in it was broken, and covered with the fine red dust of Rwanda. No one disturbed it. People were slaughtered here.

We somberly left and drove to the next church, Nyatama, where thousands more were slaughtered. The physical church is bigger and in better shape but inside…. The inside was completely filled with stacks of caked, moldy clothing of the victims, stiffened with blood. A chipped statue of the Virgin Mary looked down from the brick wall at the scene of carnage, hands outstretched, as though she were crying and asking why? It was a disturbing, startling contrast. The alter bore the instruments of death: machete, hammer, knife, as well a the artifacts of the victims: a watch, a wallet, a comb.  The alter cloth was stained red with blood, and left untouched for 20 years. Downstairs, a glass enclosed display of skulls, with a glass floor, through which we could see straight through to the cellar. Under display was a coffin. In the coffin, unseen now, but originally displaying the body as it was found, a woman with a baby on her back, who had been gang raped, then had a spear shoved through her up towards her neck, and then was stabbed through the heart, which went through the baby. She was displayed like that, spear and all, for years until finally she was interred.

As we exited in shocked silence, a brightly dressed older woman, with strong features and a scowl, waited outside for us. The sister of the interred woman. Why was she suddenly here? Maybe because it was Easter, maybe because it was the 20th anniversary, but something in me somehow said she is here to try to earn a little cash from sympathetic Americans. We put some Rwandan dollars in the donation box.

Lucian offered to take us to the presidential palace, Habyarimana’s palace. Habyarimana's death in 1994 sparked the genocide. This was a boring tour, mostly because we couldn’t understand the guide well. The palace was not in great shape. There were photos on display from the genocide, which tore at my heart, especially the children with their hollow stares. The most interesting part was peering out the yard and seeing the actual wreckage of the plane crash which killed him. On April 6, 1994, someone (to this day no one claims responsibility) shot Habyarimana down (and the president of Burundi) as he flew back from attending the Arusha peace accords. His plane landed right in his own backyard, where his wife could see it. The wreckage is amazing.

Thursday April 24, 20014   Gorilla Trek.

This morning I awoke at 5:30 am, and hastily dressed in the chilly air to prepare for the gorilla trek. I loved putting on my trekking clothes and gear, and it made me so content and happy inside to know I could go out exploring. The road to the gorilla sanctuary on the volcano was brutally ragged, all pitted magma rocks, mud and stones. A few precarious and narrow wood slat bridges. Out of the simple homes along the route poured out children, most in dirty clothes, they themselves dirty wearing a hodgepodge of clothes. All smiling and waving to us, “Allo!” they cheered!

Laurie Kelley with hikers for gorilla trek
The countryside was spectacular: heavy mist settling on the rich red earth upended in clumps in the carefully groomed fields, green trees stretching up toward a dominating volcano in the background. The Land Rovers pitched back and forth over the rough terrain. Finally we reached the spot and disembarked. We hiked about 30 minutes only, through the ploughed fields, through thick bamboo forests where one guide had to machete his way in, up mud hills, and over little streams. We met up with our trackers, who had found the “Hirwa” family, consisting of a nine gorillas: a silverback (“Lucky,” so-called as he gets all the females), three adult females, two sub-adult females (not able to mate yet), one one-month old, and three year old twins.

And there they were. Startling to be so close to this endangered animal, which is so like us. When our guide, Patrick, was telling us about the male gorilla’s habits— he gets drunk on one of the plants, fights with the other young males and then cheats with the females— I asked, “We are talking about gorillas, right?”

Munyinya
We first spied the mother with the one-month-old, just above our heads on a soft mound of earth. All around us is forest, or perhaps jungle? Thick, green, perfect cover for these gentle giants. We could get in close, and snapped many photos. No flash is allowed as this reminds the gorillas of lightning, of which they are afraid. Then another gorilla appeared, and another.

While we were busy snapping photos, the alpha male, his domed forehead so reminiscent of King Kong, appeared—Munyinya, the silverback. Our guides said he was the biggest silverback in both Uganda and Rwanda, making him the biggest living mountain gorilla. He issued deep, guttural grunts, and our guides responded. We snapped and videotaped for 15-20 minutes when suddenly Munyinya jumped down, and somehow commanded the entire troop to come to him. Each members obeyed and lowered themselves to stand next to him. He was only a few feet away from members of our group!

Together, the entire family climbed up to another spot above us, where they proceeded to settle in and eat everything in sight. Munyinya even bent an entire bamboo tree, broke it in half and stripped it of its leaves. His power is immense. The twins appeared and were fuzzy and playful.

Our guide signaled to me that he found another, a young female. She was wandering alone so we tracked her. I got ahead of the guide, and suddenly found myself too close to the gorilla. She stopped, and I stopped. Then she started towards me! “Don’t move!” my guide whispered. I couldn’t, as I was up against bamboo trees. The gorilla came within two feet of me. She looked right into the lens of my lowered camcorder. Then, caught on film, her eyes drifted upwards and looked straight into mine, as though she were checking me out. Then, she simply moved on. Walked ahead, plunked herself down and began eating bamboo shoots. Our group moved in for some great photos!

After one hour we had to leave. The gorillas only tolerate visitors so long. A happy walk back with lots of excitement at having seen these beautiful, intelligent, endangered animals.
 

Friday April 25, 2014 Dian Fossey’s Gravesite
The African rains pour down but I am in my lovely room, with a space heater on, drying my trekking socks, a cup of spicy African tea, and my laptop. We did a fantastic hike today.

I awoke at 5, and lay in bed enjoying the space heater I was given, and my soft bed. Then up to trek all morning. I washed, donned my trekking clothes, bandana, sunglasses, gaiters, boots, money, Camelback. Love being outside and hiking! I had internet at last and downloaded all the news, of which there was not much. Ate a breakfast of scrambled eggs, roll, mango and passion fruit.

The sky was clear and blue. Ahead of me, the magnificent volcano that has stood for millions of years. Last night I spotted Mars, its intense red light gives it a power that its little size belies.

We set off along the bumpiest road I have ever been on. These were magma rocks, spewed out in 1957, when the little volcano last erupted. The rocks were propped every which way, and our SUV had to maneuver them over a long while. Going at most 10 miles per hour, Chris navigated us while I enjoyed the pastoral countryside. Mud houses, clean and tidy; people of all descriptions walking everywhere. What’s that, a walking tree? No, a slim older Rwandan man carrying a tree on his back to replant. Mothers with babies tied to their backs with colorful cloth carried massive branches or potato sacks or water jugs on their head. Little children, dirty runny noses, barefoot, screeched out “Allo!” and waved frantically. I reciprocate!


And the backdrop behind this daily opening of a play are the Virunga range volcanoes, over million years old. The big one, Sabinio, is named after an “old man’s teeth” because of its ragged outline. It is stunning. The road we drive on is horrifically pitted with magma rocks: we pitch back and forth, as if we are climbing each rock separately. Our stomachs churn. Our slow speed of 3 mph give the children a chance to run alongside. And everywhere area people walking.

After 45 minutes of that ride, we pull into a small village where the army has men posted. Here’s where the trailhead begins. I meet Lois, our guide, a gorgeous Rwandan woman, and we head out.

We walk up a long “road” of lava rocks, dusty grey now but still pitted like most lava rocks are. Ahead are the green slopes of the volcano; on either side, the village. Mud homes, numerous and playful children, laundry laid out on shrubs, water pouring out of a pipe that comes from the mountains, and children filling buckets. The children pour out of their little homes to ogle us. I smile at each one. The adult are not so friendly. I have four army soldiers with me; two in front and two behind, to watch for wild buffalo, Lois tells me. And a man in blue, who I ignore at first but I guess he is part of the park service there to help me. As if I need help!

It’s a long hike that morning. The rocky road cutting through the village, then a grassy path twisting up the mountain, passing cows and sheep that don’t like me, then up straight alongside a rocky wall, then into the forest proper. It is cool but walking makes me hot and I shed my coat. The climb is almost vertical and slippery. Up past a little footbridge and we are in the forest!

It is primordial, lush, gorgeous. Behind us, downward, spreads the village then all of Rwanda. Far in the distance are the famous “thousand hills.” Now the walking is even more treacherous. For the entire time I have to watch my feet. The path has now been cleared but as it is the rainy season, it’s completely submerged in mud, covering all the roots and even the white cloth potato sacks placed there as stepping stones. My boots are able to balance on the roots and hit the sacks, but every now and then I miss and my feet are engulfed into the inches thick, black mud. But is feels great! Thick and slimy, it sucks loudly when I remove my boots or walking stick. Still, I am nimble and surefooted and keep up with Lois with no problem.

Laurie Kelley hiking to Dian Fossey' gravesite
For a while you can’t grab onto anything as the stinging nettles are the only thing lining the path. A few of these microscopic needles get lodged into my hand, and they sting and itch relentlessly but there’s nothing to be done. I had gloves with me in my daypack but neglected to put them on. Every so often I raise my eyes to gaze at the forest; it is magnificent. Every blade, every tree, every leaf, a miraculous wonder of an intertwined ecosystem. Lois breaks off a leaf that she says the gorillas love and I taste it. Nothing at first, then… bitter!

We trek for at least two solid hours, straight up hill, slipping on the rocks, getting stuck in the mud, avoiding the stinging nettles. Our path weaves in and out, back and forth to find the best support so we don’t sink in the mud. A few times my feet miss and I go in over my boots in the mud, and feel water rush into my socks. By now I have thick mud up to my shins, and a light mist starts to fall on me. It is glorious. I have never been happier!

Finally we reach the place, where Dian Fossey worked. There’s nothing left; her house and research station were destroyed. All that’s left of her house are a few posts; I sit on one and Lois snaps my picture. We see the grave and stand over it as Lois tells me more about Dian’s vicious death by machete.

The return trip is fast, probably less than one hour. I love the challenge of hiking. Descending is tricky; gravity pulls, while you are a bit tired and the rocks are slimy with mud. My boots are completely covered in mud, so I slip easily. Still, I keep a great pace. I love nature; love it, love it and always want to be outside.

Coming finally into the clearing, though still having to navigate some steep and rocky passes, I tell Lois, It ain't over yet, Most accidents happen on the way down. And sure enough, my ankles are tired; I can feel them give a bit. When we are almost down, already into the cultivated place and alongside the rock wall, I look up to catch the glorious view and slip suddenly, falling to earth in a split second. My right arm hits the rock wall heavily. In a second the man in blue, who had nothing to do, lurches forward, with “Sorry!” But I hop back up, checking the most important things: my camera lens (which hit hard) and my manicured nails. All’s good. My forearm has an 8-inch superficial gash in it and I have a scraped elbow and my hand has a puncture in it. A bit of blood here and there but I’m good to go.
 
Finally we are back; I tip everyone well, and we happily climb into the SUV. My guide says I am the first person ever to get back before 2 pm; it is only 12:15! We flew!

We cause a little riot at one street corner, giving away to a small crowd the soaps, toiletries and toothbrush I confiscated from all the hotels. They are so grateful for anything they get. I give another little boy who was running alongside the SUV my chocolate protein bar. When I said “chocolate,” his eyes widened!

Muddy and bloody!
The clouds have now rolled in, and the rain was pelting a while ago. My boots and gaiters have come back to me clean as can be. My wool hiking socks ran red for 20 minutes—I could not soak them enough to get the mud out. Now I sit, enjoying tea, a warm room, birds chirping outside, peace and quiet in this rich land of Africa.

“In the recycled carbon air of the long flight back, I physically long for Rwanda, its rich red earth, the smell of its wood fires and its vibrant humanity. “ Shake Hands with the Devil, Roméo Dallaire

 
Bayer