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Nine Cystic Fibrosis patients achieve the impossible...

Author: mar 17, 2017. Klass Willems

On the 21st of januari our long awaited expedition to Ecuador took off. The team: 9 Cystic Fibrosis patients and a whole medical team to help and make this whole expedition possible.

Back at the hut of the Cayambe

Cystic Fibrosis is an genetic disease that affects mostly the lungs and digestion system
. With the help of medication, therapy and sport it is possible to slow down the symptoms and have a meaningful life.

Why Ecuador? To go and try climbing Volcanos above 4000m and in the end even one of 5790m (Cayambe).
During this expedition we will do some scientific tests to see how our lungs react at this high altitude.

With professor Lieven Dupont, one of the 2 doctors that joined together with nurses and physiotherapists.Our expedition was well prepared to push our limits but still without taking big risks. 

During one year we all did physical tests and got a training program to prepare ourselves for this project.I was very happy to see this happen. In hospital we always get told to take all our medication and do our therapy well.

Outdoor sports are often considered too dangerous and risky with CF. We where going there to show it is possible and even could help our lungs to have better health.

A walk to acclimatise with the view of the Cayambe 5790m

This preparation was not easy. CF patients need to make a lot of time to do our therapy and it is always possible to have a worse period with many hospital visits.

Some of us, including myself, had to go 2 weeks to hospital for antibiotic treatment one month or less before we had to go to Ecuador.

After arriving in Ecuador at 2500m we had some days to acclimatise and enjoy this beautiful nature in Ecuador. Then we took off to the Pasochoa (4200m), our firstk volcano.

We soon realised that the breathing on this altitude is not easy but with the help of the medical team and guides everybody made it to the top.

Before we left to Ecuador Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll came to talk to us about his adventures and motivate us. He told us we should enjoy the time there and try to make it to the summit, if not your own summit wherever that could be.

But off course the view from the top is always better but that should not be the goal itself. The goal should be to enjoy the whole experience and this was exactly what everyone did!

Therapy and taking all our medication always happend before and after the climbs (sometimes even during). Rest days were the days to pay extra attention to this with the help of Eric and Annelies, the physiotherapists of the expedition.


Summit of the Pasochoa

Later we went for our 2nd more technical and higher volcano, the Illiniza Norte (5126m).

We started walking at 3600m and a couple hours later we arrived in the mountain hut (4600m). 

The climb from there on was more technical with some scrambling on rock. This was mostly new terrain for most of us so it made the way to the summit even more adventurous.   

We made it to the top with a big group. The weather wasn’t great so we descended fast back to the hut and later on back down to the hotel to recover as much as possible for the last objective of the expedition, the Cayambe (5790m).

The hut of the Cayambe was at 4600m. We arrived in the evening and after some food we quickly went to bed. At midnight we started the hike to the glacier and from there on we roped up with 3 to go and try to make it to the summit.

Arriving at 5200m, I regretted not bringing a walking stick. Lactic acid stopped my legs for moving on. My guide gave me his longer ice ax for support and we slowly continued.

At 5500m I was totally destroyed and realised the summit would be not possible for me. When the rest of the team that still went for the summit passed we wished them good luck.

Some meters further up I really needed to stop to have enough energy to go safe down.

My summit wasn’t on the top of the mountain, but still I was happy to be in this beautiful environment, to push my limits and get better health doing so.

I’m super proud that still someone with CF could make it to the top and everybody from the expedition went above 5000m which is a pretty high altitude, even for healthy people!

Now we saw what we all can do with good training and preperation it is on us to keep doing sport and see how it has a positive effect for out health.

During this expedition we showed that CF patients can climb at these high altitudes.

A big thanks to  the whole medical team that took the time and effort to help all of us to make this happen. This wouldn’t have been possible without their devotion and support.