Physician to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Toronto Rehab patients

Toronto (Nov. 6, 2002) - Toronto physician Dr. Nora Cullen faces the challenge of her lifetime on Dec. 3 when she begins a five-day ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, braving thin air and freezing temperatures on Africa's highest peak.

Dr. Cullen is dedicating her climb to patients of Toronto Rehab, Canada's largest provider of adult rehabilitation services, where she treats people with acquired brain injuries.

"The patients at Toronto Rehab climb mountains every day," says Dr. Cullen. "For them, this can mean learning to walk again, talk again, drive a car or do their own finances. Every step can be a struggle."

Dr. Cullen is donating money raised by her climb to the Toronto Rehab Foundation’s Giving Together campaign.

Rising 5,895 metres at its snow-capped summit, Mount Kilimanjaro is not for the faint of heart. Even the most experienced climbers experience altitude sickness -- and Dr. Cullen admits she’s "a neophyte" who has worked for a year with a trainer.

"Particularly at the higher altitudes, I'll have to go very slowly, breathing after every step," says Dr. Cullen.

But her biggest worry is the cold. Temperatures can easily plunge to - 10 degrees. “I hope it doesn’t go that low. I'm not good with cold," says the Toronto-born doctor.

To prevent dehydration, she will carry a two-litre bag of water on her back, with a drinking tube attached to her shoulder strap. Anti-malarials and pills to prevent altitude sickness will be among her medications.

Dr. Cullen says she gets her inspiration from her patients -- and from her father Len Cullen "who lives what he is passionate about." At 65, he bicycled from Windsor to Quebec City for his favourite charity. He also created Cullen Gardens because he had a passion for gardening and a dream to make a place for people to visit.

Since 1999, Dr. Cullen has worked as a physiatrist (a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation) in Toronto Rehab’s Neuro Rehabilitation Program. Also a researcher, she studies causes of brain injury and the effectiveness of different therapies and medications. She teaches medical students and residents through the University of Toronto. 

Joining Dr. Cullen on her trek in Tanzania are seven other climbers, three of them physicians. As she climbs the world’s highest free-standing mountain, Dr. Cullen will be thinking of her patients and "their brave determination."

"These people work hard to make even the smallest gains," she says. "What I'm doing may be difficult but it's nothing compared to what they face every day."

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