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UHN team paddles rapids in Nahanni River for cardiac health

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​​​​Image of Dr. Heather Ross and transplant recipient Dale Shippam
Dr. Heather Ross and transplant recipient Dale Shippam paddling through the rapids of the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. (Photo: Dr. Heather Ross)​

Dr. Heather Ross, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) cardiologist, and a team of four tested their personal limits paddling through more than 300 km of whitewater rapids on the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.

The Test Your Limits adventure, planned to raise awareness and funds for cardiac health and research, took place from July 22 to Aug. 11. Dr. Ross documented her adventure in a daily blog.

"If we can reach people and excite them about exercise and how much exercise will impact their lives, I think that's still the single most important reason to do the trips," said Dr. Ross prior to setting out on her first Test Your Limits adventure in Canada and the first on water.

Among the five-member team were Dr. Michael McDonald, cardiologist at PMCC, and Dale Shippam, who had a heart transplant at PMCC 16 years ago.

"What has surprised me the most is how far I have come from those days waiting in the hospital for a transplant. Before my transplant, I was barely able to get out of bed and living day to day," says Shippam.

'A very humbling experience'

"The setting of our expedition provided all the elements expected for a Test Your Limits trip – incredible landscapes, volatile climate and real mental and physical fatigue each day," says Dr. McDonald.

"Seeing our two transplant recipient colleagues embrace the challenge was a constant boost; a reminder of the importance of health and wellness, and the impact of organ transplantation. A very humbling experience overall."​​

​​Image of Dr. Ross’ crew
Dr. Ross’ crew paddled alongside her through the calm and the rapids on the Nahanni. (Photo: Dr. Heather Ross)​

In her own words:  Dr. Heather Ross' adventure

DAY 2

"It took us just under two hours to fly to Glacier Lake (Alberta) but what a flight! [Our pilot] Tor rules the sky! We flew over mountain tops, into canyons, close enough to see the sheep (and maybe even their nose hairs)."

DAY 4

"Had another Shippam – Ross moment! I was in my tent and heard some buzzing and when I opened the vent there were about 100 wasps between my tent and the fly – a bit of an issue given my allergy. Dale took the fly off and shooed them away – otherwise I think I would be stuck in the tent for the duration of the trip."​​

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DAY 6

"Paddled over to the Ranger station and said a prayer to four directions: for myself, for my family, for my community and my surroundings and the people I am with. The Ranger said his part in Dene, the aboriginal tongue. We had sage and tobacco in our left hand, closer to our heart, and said the prayer turning to face all four directions, north, east, south and finishing west."

"There were some impressive obstacles and a five-foot portage but we ran the stream down to the Nahanni. OMG. IT'S HUGE. It roils, and rolls and looks like fudge when it's cooking. IT'S HUGE."

DAY 8

"We had a wonderful five-hour paddle. Saw a glorious bald eagle high in the tree top. And also saw a pair of Yukon Swans – pristine white against the darkness of the day and the sky – absolutely magic. Of course in camp we have the requisite footprints – caribou in addition to moose and bear."​

Image of Dr. Ross and her team
Dr. Ross and her team encountered some waves that went higher than their heads. (Photo: Dr. Heather Ross)​

DAY 13

"We had major sets of rapids today.  I had a facial with a ginormous (cathedral) wave that went over my head. A figure of eight wave occurs when there is such a large whirlpool that you can see depth to it."

DAY 18

"We have come to the end of our paddle – amazingly the back of the envelope has us at 250,000 paddle strokes, 340 km travelled,  1300 vertical feet dropped during the paddle, one brutal portage, multiple life firsts in rapids, 3 bears, 1 bison, a gaggle of geese, two swans, an eagle, a lynx, 1 porcupine and one helluva an experience."

Test Your Limits began in 2006, and has raised over $2​ million to date for cardiac health and research.​

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