I was privileged to be one of 200 or so international volunteers who participated in a trek to Everest Base Camp as part of the first Xtreme-Everest Research project back in Spring 2007.
As volunteers, we undertook a series of tests at various 'laboratories' along the trekking route, climbing progressively into the thin atmosphere. Testing involved cycling on an exercise bike whilst recording heart and lung functions and blood oxygen levels. There were also brain function tests, an eye pupil reaction test and weight/body composition recording. A 'symptoms diary' was completed every day throughout too.
The main medical team involved took this research further by summiting Mount Everest, whilst making the first ever measurement of oxygen levels in blood at this extreme altitude. An interesting documentary about this project 'Doctors in the Death Zone' can be viewed online.
Low oxygen levels are a critical factor in intensive care patients. In particular, diseases of the heart and lungs, and severe infections prevent adequate amounts of oxygen reaching the cells. Dangerously low levels of oxygen are also a fundamental problem in blue babies, children with heart and lung diseases (such as Cystic Fibrosis) and in adults with chronic bronchitis, emphysema and ARDS.
This unique expedition is still providing lessons from the extreme low oxygen environment of the summit of Mount Everest, bringing these back to the bedside of the intensive care unit. It will help medical teams better understand how some people cope with low oxygen levels better than others and will help inform treatments in the future.
So successful was this venture that a second Xtreme-Everest Research project was commissioned.
I have now made the diary of my own personal challenge public: