They made it! In what is believed to be a world-first, a heart transplant patient along with his transplant doctor skied over 100 miles, over ice, snow drifts, across open water, through gale-force winds and freezing temperatures to make it to the North Pole early Thursday morning.
The intrepid pair, along with three other adventurous souls, took 11 days to reach the northernmost point of the globe. The pair set out on this journey to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation, and to show everyone that transplant patients can lead healthy lives and contribute to society.
In her daily blog, Dr. Heather Ross, medical director of the heart transplant program at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, describes what it was like to wait out a storm, stuck on the ice, so they could finish their trek.
" …For me, the unknown was a touch terrifying. It made me realize how incredibly small and vulnerable we were in a 6 x 8 foot tent, -20 wind chill to nearly -40, with winds greater than 25 miles per hour. Dale reminded both Michel and I that this is what it feels like day in, day out, for someone waiting for a transplant. No control over events, vulnerable, waiting – it put a whole new perspective on things. My admiration and respect for transplant recipients and those waiting continues to grow," writes Dr. Ross.
Dr. Ross and heart transplant patient Dale Shippam, a 58-year-old firefighter from Thunder Bay, were part of a campaign called Test Your Limits, which so far has raised more than $300,000 for heart disease research. Dale received a heart transplant in 1999 after his heart was damaged by a viral infection. For further details, please go to: www.testyourlimits.ca
The team was made up of five members: Dale, Dr. Ross, two guides and Dr. Michael White, director of the heart failure research program at the Montreal Heart Institute. On April 4, the team reached the Russian ice station Borneo. From there a helicopter flew them to their starting point where "all if a sudden, we were completely alone…..felt like I was on the moon.".
From her blog, Dr. Ross writes that, "Now we are at 89 degrees 4.1 minutes - so we skied for three hours and covered only four miles - over typical terrain. Gives you an idea what we have to do to cover 60 miles to pole, let alone drift and obstacles, open water.....wind howling as we set camp…"
During the trip, Dr. Ross writes about how well Dale held up under the stresses of such a difficult journey. "Dale, as always, never creases to amaze me with what he is capable of. Eleven years post-transplant, pulling his weight (with 36kg of gear), one step after another pushing the boundaries and representing transplant in the best possible way."
About Toronto General Hospital, University Health NetworkToronto General Hospital is a partner in the University Health Network, along with the Toronto Western Hospital and the Princess Margaret Hospital. These teaching hospitals are affiliated with the University of Toronto. Toronto General Hospital is a national and international source for research, education and patient care, and is recognized internationally for its innovations in transplantation, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, diabetes and genomic medicine. The multi-organ transplant program is the largest in Canada, performing about 450 transplants a year. It is renowned worldwide for its innovation and comprehensiveness in treating patients with severe and complex end-stage organ diseases.