As people get ready to celebrate Christmas with their family under the beautiful lights of a tree circled with gifts, several members of the Gandhi family will be making a long and traitorous journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain. The life-changing trip will be packed with adventure, emotion and memories that will surely be an incredible chapter in our family’s story. What makes this climb so special is the fact that it’s a charity fundraiser to benefit the Yash Gandhi Foundation, named after our beloved Yash Gandhi, who passed away after a long struggle with a rare disease called I-Cell.
|Counterclockwise from the Top Left - Pritesh, Achal, Ruchir, Preena, Swetal, Ronak and Ashesh|
Ashesh Gandhi - Ashes is Yash's father. He is the oldest and arguably the wisest of the Gandhi Cousins. Ashesh is a pharmacist. He, his wife Sonal and their 9-year-old son Kavi all live in Philadelphia, PA.
Pritesh Gandhi – Pritesh is Ashesh’s brother. He, his wife Nital and two twin 6-year-old daughters Sia and Simran live in Boston, MA. Pritesh is also a pharmacist who specializes in drugs for rare diseases.
Swetal Gandhi – Swetal is Ashesh’s cousin who lives in Jacksonville, FL with his wife Dilpa, 8-year-old son Khush and 5-year-old daughter Niaya. He recently opened up his own pharmacy and still works as an ICU pharmacist at a local hospital.
Achal Gandhi – Achal is our baby cousin. He lives in London with his beautiful new bride Preena and works as an accountant.
Preena Gandhi – Preena is the newest, prized addition to the Gandhi Clan and the sole brave woman in the group of Kili climbers. She and Achal got married last year during a week of beautiful festivities in London. It was the biggest family reunion we’ve had prior to this climb.
Ruchir Parikh – Ruchir is Pritesh’s brother-in-law. He’s married to Sheetal and has two daughters – 6-year-old Milani and 3-year-old Krishani. Ruchir is also a pharmacist.
Ronak Gandhi – Ronak is Pritesh’s brother-in-law and the youngest climber in the group. He lives in Woburn, MA and is currently studying pharmacy at Northeastern University.
Our Family’s Story
|Gandhi Family, Achal weds Preena's in London, 2011|
To understand our family, you have to understand our history. Our family’s journey began in Kenya, where we will be returning to for this special climb. Ashesh, Pritesh, Swetal and Achal were all born in Kenya. Over the years, we all moved our separate ways between Africa, UK, US and Canada. However, the bond was never broken. Throughout our lives, we have lived together at times, spent months traveling together and supported each other through the most triumphant and trying experiences. We have celebrated weddings, the births of our beautiful nieces and nephews, and taken memorable journeys across the globe, ranging from African safaris to Alaskan cruises. Sadly, our story is not free from tragedies. In 1998, we lost our dear cousin Komal Gandhi (Achal’s sister) in a car crash. She was just 19 year old. It was a devastating time for our family and certainly brought us closer together. In 2009, we suffered the unimaginable pain of losing our little Yash at the tender age of 9. It was one of the saddest reunions our family has ever experienced, but it was also the inspiration for the Climb to Kili.
Yash and the Yash Gandhi Foundation
|Yash loved Elmo and Music|
Combine the sweet sounds of a baby’s laugh with the most loving expression you’ve ever seen in anyone’s eyes and top it off with eternal sunshine. This was Yash. Yash Gandhi was born on December 23, 2000. Ashesh and Sonal were the proud parents of the first Gandhi grandchild on our mother’s side and we could not have been more overjoyed as a family. He was perfect in every way. He was always smiling, laughing, hugging and kissing everyone he met. It was impossible to not fall in love with this beautiful little boy. So, as you can imagine, it was a complete shock to our entire family to learn that this happy ball of joy was actually suffering from a life-threatening disease. ML2 or I-cell is a devastating, rare, genetic, lysosomal storage disorder that affects every organ of the body. Children affected by the ailment show resilience and overcome huge challenges and obstacles in their little lives to do little things that we may take for granted such as walking, speaking, breathing or even eating. At the time he was diagnosed, doctors told Ashesh and Sonal to just give Yash all the love they could, because he would probably only live for another year. It was incomprehensible for a family full of pharmacists to now face one of our own suffering from a medical condition with minimal research and no cure. Ashesh and Sonal traveled the world looking for answers, trying different treatments and desperately doing whatever they could do give him the best life a little boy could have. They accomplished that. Yash was blessed with amazing people around him and those who had the privilege of knowing him left feeling nothing less than inspired. In the midst of dealing with the nightmare of his disease, Ashesh and Sonal had another prayer answered when they welcomed their second son Kavi into this world. Yash loved his little brother and Kavi soon became like a big brother – doing everything he could to help Yash and his parents during their continuing uphill battle with I-Cell. It’s hard to comprehend how they all did it, but somehow, in the midst of all the close calls, hospital visits, occupational and physical therapy sessions, live-in nurses and mounting medical bills, Ashesh and Sonal decided to start a foundation to help other families who were facing the same struggles and challenges with I-Cell. In 2002, the Yash Gandhi Foundation was born and the non-profit organization is built completely on a volunteer and donation basis, meaning there are no overhead costs and all the money goes directly to research. They knew that there probably wouldn’t be a cure for Yash, but perhaps they could prevent another child and another family from dealing with this traumatic disease.
|Yash's unforgettable smile|
Through all of it, Ashesh and Sonal also made sure that each of us shared a special bond with Yash and that he had a brilliant childhood. He enjoyed his music classes, playing with Elmo, face painting on Christmas vacation in Florida, meeting his favorite characters on a Disney Cruise and countless visits with all of us. He also got to share special time with his Swetal kaka, who lived in Philly for a year and spent lots of time with his favorite nephew. In 2009, Yash’s condition got worse and his parents had made countless visits in and out of the hospital. It was a trying time for the family and they were tormented by the decision of how much longer they could let Yash endure the pain and struggles that were now magnified with each hospital visit. Once again, we supported each other. Pritesh and Swetal made trips to Philly to help them out, but it was touch and go. We weren’t sure how much longer our little guy could hang on. On November 6, 2009, God cradled Yash into his arms and assured our family that he would take care of him forever. In a celebration of his life, the family came together, remembered the wonderful gift that was Yash and vowed to work together to keep his legacy alive through the Yash Gandhi foundation. Since then, we have held “Brighten a Child’s Day” volunteer events across the country, hosted our first annual golf tournament which raised $10,000 for research, awarded a $20,000 grant to the Greenwood Genetic Center in South Carolina which is working on a cure, won Pfizer Volunteerz challenge as one of the top 10 most voted and inspiring projects in the world and raised over $15,000 through the Climb for Kilimanjaro Challenge. Yash would be smiling and clapping right now. He must be so proud of his family’s efforts.
The Climb to Kili
Knowing Yash is with God, it is fitting that our family is taking a journey to Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is revered as the “the place where God lives.” The pinnacle of the climb to the peak will be looking up above at Yash, smiling and saying, “We did it. We did it for you Yashy!” Now, this climb will not be easy. Mt. Kilimanjaro has been called the “most underestimated mountain in the world.” The seven-day hike will take place on December 13 – 19, 2012. The journey begins with a trip to the homeland - Kenya, where the majority of our climbers were born. You can imagine the emotional journey of returning to your birthplace, seeing where you grew up, remembering some of your fondest childhood experiences, all the while reminded that the simple things you enjoyed as a child were things Yash could never do. It will fuel the fire of passion in our climbers during their 50-kilometer hike up the Machame Route to the Uhuru Peak. The Machame route is nicknamed the “whiskey route”. It’s much tougher and less crowded. Marangu is much easier and is referred to as the “Coca-Cola” route. Leave it to the Gandhi family of Crown and Coke drinkers to choose the whiskey route. We’ve always picked the path less traveled.
|Climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro|
The climbers are in different age groups ranging from their twenties to their forties, so it will be interesting to see how each person responds to the unpredictable physical challenges. Some of the biggest problems climbers experience include altitude sickness and acute mountain illness. So to prepare for the climb, each person has used his or her own workout routine consisting of Stairmaster, swimming and running. Ashesh even completed a triathlon this year! Throughout the trip, we will be blogging about the climb, so please stay tuned for our updates. It is sure to be a captivating and comical journey. At the Uhuru peak, as the climbers catch their breath while experiencing the breathtaking panoramic views around them, they will commemorate the climb by putting Yash’s favorite little Elmo into the infamous wooden box at the peak, where for years the climbers of the past have left their personal journals of the trip. As December 23rd approaches, a day when we would have celebrated Yash’s 12th birthday, the Gandhi family will be celebrating our feat up the world’s biggest free standing mountain, a quintessential symbol of our family’s lifelong journey. Thank you for your donations and support.