Friday, February 26, 2010

PH awareness on the roof of Africa...

What a great staff meeting this morning!

At 10:00am, I had a scheduled call from Mt. Kilimanjaro by the climbers...the perfect time to include our entire staff.  We knew from their posting yesterday that they were to begin their final ascent from about 15,300 feet at midnight and make the 4,000 foot final push to 19,330 feet about 6 hours later.

Dr. Ray Benza was the first on the satellite phone and thrilled us with three words, "We did it."

He went on to tell us that they reached summit at 6:45am.  He said this was the most difficult physical thing each of them had ever done.  "There were several points on the ascent this morning when we were so tired that the guides had to keep us away from the edge of the cliff... It was astounding at the top of the mountain.  We could see half of Africa.  It was unbelievable."

"The physical constraints we felt at altitude were very similar to what pulmonary hypertension patients feel.  We were breathless continuously.  Today, it was hard to breathe at each step.  We checked our pulse oximetry as we ascended the mountain. At baseline we were doing great, just like normal healthly people, but by the time we were at the top of the mountain, our saturations were dipping into the low 70s, our heart rates were above 120. We were stressed.  We felt exactly what our patients suffer every day of their lives.  It gave us more of an appreciation of what our patients have to endure every day of their lives.  It endeared them to us even more."

Dr. Benza went on to tell us that it was below freezing at the peak.  They only stayed for an hour because they had no water to drink - all their water and food had frozen.  Beginning their descent, they began to double time down the mountain...6,000 feet down in four hours. He described it as being like skiing through gravel.

The biggest surprise was how hard it was.  "We knew it would be hard but we didn't imagine it would be this hard."  He said, exposed to high altitude for seven days, they were even breathless getting dressed.  "It was exactly like our patients. It humbled us quite a bit."

Jessica Lazar was next on the satellite phone.  She described being sick on the mountain, severely dehydrated.  "It wiped out whatever reserves I had for the last two fact, when I was diong the summit attempt, I got separated from the group because I was having exertional syncope which is a little dangerous. I would keep track of which side the cliff was I on and when I felt it coming on, I would fall in the other direction. It took me a bit longer but I was able to get to the top.  The guys were really helpful and stayed with me all the way to the top."

Jessica said the most spectacular view was the first sight of the mountain they were about to climb floating above the clouds.  "At one point," she said, "I saw light and dark and thought it was the clouds but realized it was the mountains. We have so many pictures to share with you."

Before the call broke up, Dr. Frantz spoke briefly about climbing by moonlight and getting to the summit, "the rim of the crater" just as the sun was coming up. 

He described it as being on the roof of Africa.

Listen to the bloggers' daily reports from the mountain on the PHA website or on the climbers' blog. If you haven't already, don't forget to support their efforts!

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