Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro

Exactly 3 weeks today I’ll be starting my ascent of a dormant mound of rocks and lava on the African continent, otherwise known as Mount Kilimanjaro. Every one of my friends seem to think I’ve lost the plot, as I decided to climb Kilimanjaro on a total whim.Kilimanjaro is one of the seven summits (it is the dream to complete these one day) and sits at 5,895 metres (19,341 feet) so it’s not exactly a walk in the park. I will be hiking the Machame route, a little more scenic than some of the others, but also steeper. Due to the altitude, everyone suffers with some degree of altitude sickness (the summit is higher than Everest Base Camp) and so it will be a challenge, but a worthwhile one. Fingers crossed I make it to the summit!

I started paying for and booked my climb back in May and was initially planning to just climb for fun, and whilst that is true, I have also now decided to try and raise money for GAIN, a charity dealing with the very rare Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

What is ​Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. It is a very rare illness, usually affecting about one person in 100,000.

Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect anybody, of any age. The first symptoms of this disorder usually come on after an infection such as a cold and include weakness or a tingling sensation in the legs. Though it can also spread to the upper body as well. These symptoms periodically get worse until sometimes the individual cannot use their legs/arms at all. If it does affect the upper body it can also stop you breathing properly and affect your heart rate.The symptoms can progress over hours, days and weeks. Most people reach their weakest point within the first fortnight after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90% of all affected are at their weakest.Most people recover from this, but it can take over a year and a substantial period of time in hospital, whilst undergoing physio and rehabilitation to use your muscles again. Some people do not recover and are unable to walk.

In the most acute form of this illness, it can be life threatening.


Why Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

I had never heard of Guillain-Barré syndrome until January this year. My Grandad had collapsed and could not use his legs. He was admitted to hospital, where Dr’s initially thought it could have been a stroke, but they later discovered it was GBS. At one point he was in intensive care and hooked up to all kinds of machines to help him breathe, and he lost so much weight. He was unable to walk without help. After about a month, he was able to walk with sticks, he left hospital and was undergoing physiotherapy. He was even doing circuit training which he told me about with glee (he used to do weights and push ups every morning even in his 70’s!)I saw him in June when I went to collect my gran to take her out for the day and he had not been well, but he still went off and got his paper and seemed his usual chirpy self, when I took my gran home again.

On the Sunday night he was admitted to hospital and underwent tests. On that Monday I was working from home and my mum rang telling me I had to go home as he had been given 24 hours to live.

This came as a complete shock, as he had been getting better. I stayed at the hospital overnight with my gran, dad and uncle and my grandad passed away the next morning, almost 24 hours exactly from when my mum had called me. The Dr’s told us what had happened to him, but could not say that it was his Guillain-Barré syndrome definitely, though upon all of us Googling, it looks as if it definitely played a very large part in it.

Could it have been prevented if more GP’s and Dr’s knew the symptoms earlier? Probably.

As such, and after looking in to this a little more, I realised that if any charity needed some funding, GAIN was the one. It is a rare, but very serious condition and needs more attention bringing to it. Holby City are currently covering it with one of their characters being affected, and that will hopefully go some way to bringing it to more people (and more Dr’s attention).


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