The days were gray and rainy, and the wind was fierce. But that didn't stop cyclists from riding through the winding roads and steep hills of Cape Cod, Mass. during the American Lung Association's 2012 Autumn Escape Bike Trek, commonly referred to as "Escape to the Cape." While it poured through much of the three-day, 160-mile event, the participants—some riding with oxygen tanks—continued on, knowing that they played a part in helping support research and programs to fight lung disease.
For a group of Baxter International Inc. employees, the ride served as a way to fight against a condition they were familiar with from their work at Baxter—Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AAT deficiency). AAT deficiency is a genetic condition in which AAT is not released from the liver into the blood. As a result, the affected person does not have enough AAT throughout the body. Some individuals with AAT deficiency are not affected, but other individuals develop liver problems like cirrhosis and/or lung problems like emphysema.
The Baxter group rode with Team Alpha-1, the cycling team for the Alpha 1 Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to promoting research and a cure for the disease. Joining the group from Baxter were Rodney Brown, Area Vice President of Sales, Pulmonary; Chris Buchholtz, Territory Business Manager, Pulmonary; Brandon Leong, Territory Business Manager, Pulmonary, and his wife, Kelli Leong; and Kevin Lello, Group Manager, Pulmonary Marketing, along with Laura Fletcher, Territory Business Manager for Pulmonary, who volunteered to drive a support van along the way.
"None of us who rode with the Alpha 1 Foundation on Team Alpha-1 from Baxter had ever biked more than 50 miles three days in a row," admitted Lello.
It was an intense weekend ride, with the Baxter team members ending each day completely soaked from the rain, Lello said. "We battled through knowing that the discomfort we all felt from biking the hills through the howling wind off the Cape and the pouring rain was nothing compared to the discomfort people who have Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency feel every day."
While the cyclists rode through the inclement weather, Fletcher made sure that everyone remained safe and accounted for, transporting the riders back and forth from the finish line back to start each day and meeting the group at rest stops in her van.
"It felt great to contribute to the team through this supportive role and I found it to be a very rewarding experience," said Fletcher. "It was inspiring to watch the incredible effort from all the cyclists—they kept the true intention of the event at heart throughout the challenging ride."
Baxter contributed a grant to Team Alpha-1, which helped the team reach its fundraising goal of $50,000. All money raised by the Alpha-1 Foundation and the American Lung Association during the event went towards lung disease research, advocacy and education, which impacts research and awareness efforts for Alpha-1.
"Volunteers from the Alpha-1, healthcare and biopharmaceutical communities have been riding together at Escape to the Cape for 17 years," said Angela McBride, the Alpha-1 Foundation's director of community relations and development. "We at the Foundation are in awe of their dedication and we are enormously grateful for their work to raise awareness and funds for Alpha-1 research."
For the Baxter team, it was a welcome opportunity to ride with and support Team Alpha-1 and to do their part to try to make a difference in the lives of patients who live with AAT deficiency. The group intends to take part in the ride again next year and hopes to assemble an even bigger team for the commemoration of the 50th year anniversary since the discovery of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.
"Given the work that we do at Baxter, it's really meaningful for us to be able to support this cause," said Fletcher.