In each issue of HemAware, we spotlight someone in the bleeding disorders community. This issue, we speak with Dawn Pollard, who, along with her husband, Robert Fieber, are being awarded NHF’s 2015 Philanthropist of the Year Award.
Tell us about your experience with the bleeding disorders community.
My oldest brother Michael, who would be 68 years old this year, was born with severe hemophilia A. He passed away at the age of 22 months from a head bleed due to what was a really typical toddler fall. My parents then had my sister, and then me, then my other brother who was unaffected, and last, my brother Kurt, who was also born with hemophilia.
What was it like for your family, dealing with hemophilia in the 1960s and ’70s?
My mother found it very difficult. We grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and there really wasn’t the social support there that she needed. When Kurt was growing up, she only met one other mother who had a child who had hemophilia—and that mother had lost that child. And the treatments, of course, weren’t as good as they are today. The only treatment available was fresh frozen plasma. So my mother was very protective of Kurt. She really never let him out of her sight, until one day she received information in the mail about Camp Bold Eagle.
What happened when Kurt went to camp?
Kurt always described Camp Bold Eagle as the most transformative experience of his life. For the first time, he met other kids with hemophilia. Those days, a lot of the kids were on crutches or had other disabilities. Kurt made friends at that camp who remained his friends his entire life. And he was allowed to go away from home for the first time. He never forgot that experience. Kurt really thought it was one of the most important things that happened to him.
How did Kurt’s experience with camp affect your life?
About five years ago, Kurt passed away. He had contracted HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated factor. But he had lived an extraordinary life. He lived in California, where I had moved. He married and had a lovely daughter, Hailee Dawn.
He worked as an executive chef. But before he died, he told me that he wanted me to do two things for him after his death. One was to make sure his daughter made it through college. He also said, “I’ve never had such a profound experience as hemophilia camp. I want you to do everything you can to make sure that every kid with a bleeding disorder who wants a camp experience can have one.” Since then, I’ve focused my energy on making that happen.
How are you working to fulfill Kurt’s request?
I’m president of the board of directors of the Hemophilia Foundation of Northern California (HFNC). We serve 47 counties in California, and our camp is Camp Hemotion. I like to think that I’ve made a difference.
My husband, Robert, and I both have a deep commitment to philanthropy. We are blessed in that we are financially comfortable. I’ve bequeathed a $1 million life insurance policy to be split between NHF and HFNC. We decided that this was a gift that we could make that would be extremely beneficial to both organizations, and we’re extremely proud and happy to make it. My husband and I feel strongly that we want fewer things and more experiences. And the experience of being in service to others is much more rewarding than a trip to Europe or a new car every few years.
What do you hope this gift will achieve?
We’ve made this gift hoping that it will be used at the local level, for providing a camp experience to kids, and at the national level toward advancing the science of treatment and cures. My husband and I are both truly humbled that we are in the position to provide this gift.