Feature Story

Baxter Team Climbs Great Heights to Mark the 50th Anniversary of Alpha-1 Discovery

The simple act of taking the stairs instead of using an elevator can offer a healthy change to one's routine. 

Recently, a group of Baxter employees and their families took this to hearton a much larger scaleby taking part in Hustle Up the Hancock, a Respiratory Health Association event held at the John Hancock Building, a 100-story Chicago architectural landmark.

The yearly event serves as a fundraiser for research, advocacy and education related to lung disease. The occasion also had special meaning for those impacted by one lung disease in particularalpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the disease, a hereditary condition that can result in early onset emphysema.

Baxter, which produces therapies to treat alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, partnered with the Alpha-1 Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting research and a cure, in order to bring attention to the important anniversary and educate others about the disease during Hustle Up the Hancock.

"At the event we wanted to drive awareness of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and appropriate diagnosis, as well as to share the message that everyone can play a key role in promoting healthy lungs and fighting lung disease," says Mark Heidersbach, Baxter area vice president of biotherapeutics sales and marketing.

The company rallied to sign up at least 50 employee participants to commemorate this 50th anniversary, and exceeded their goal. Participants, who wore team shirts emblazoned with the Alpha-1 Foundation 50th anniversary logo, hiked up either 52 or 94 floors of the building in support of the causea total of 816 to 1,632 steps climbed per person. Of the over 50 Baxter team members, 41 were able to make it to 94th floor.

Baxter has participated in Hustle Up the Hancock since 2005. Heidersbach started the company's first team with the patients he encountered through his work in mind. 

"My inspiration was the many patients I've met with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency who have difficulty walking up the stairs in their homes," Heidersbach says. "I wanted to support the Respiratory Health Association's mission both from a corporate and personal level."

The Baxter team has grown in participation and popularity each following year2013 was the largest team to dateand draws in others with a personal connection to the cause.

"Many who participate have been affected or touched by lung disease," says Colleen Madison, manager, customer service, who has participated for the past seven years. "In my case, my dad has interstitial lung disease, for which there is no cure or treatment. So while I climb for my dad, I also climb to promote awareness and show support to the alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency community."

The Baxter group hopes to bring an even bigger team to Hustle Up the Hancock next year, and continue building its efforts within the local alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency community. For those gearing up for the event next year, the regular participants advise that the rigorous climb requires some preparation, perseverance, and a positive attitude.

"The stair master helps you prepare, but you need to really work on your cardio, as after a while during the climb, your legs feel numb and it really becomes about the lungs," says Madison.

Adds Heidersbach, "When you know what to expect and train accordingly, the climb gets easierto a point. But it continues to be a very unique and challenging event."