05 August 2009

Cerebral oedema strikes SA climber

South Africa’s first father and daughter attempt to summit Europe’s highest peak was abandoned due to one of the climbers experiencing a severe medical condition, cerebral oedema.

South Africa’s first father and daughter attempt to summit Europe’s highest peak in Russia was abandoned due to one of the climbers experiencing a severe medical condition, cerebral oedema (water swelling in the brain).

Capetonians Jeremy and Lara Chaitman, who got back last week, were due to climb Mount Elbrus (5 642m), the highest point in Europe and one of the world’s seven summits to raise funds for two local charities.

As part of their MAD Journey to the Peak expedition, they were climbing to raise funds to help educate foster children from Ikamva Labantu through Make a Difference Foundation’s (Mad’s) education programme.

Having started the summit at 3am, Lara (25) was uncertain about hiking in a faster group ahead of her father, had a slight cold, inadequate gloves, lacked sleep and wasn’t feeling strong at the high altitude.

At about 5 200m Lara experienced impaired vision, slurred speech, dizziness, dilated eyes, drowsiness and nausea- all symptoms of cerebral oedema. She was treated immediately and told by the medical crew to descend or risk collapsing and seriously endangering her health.

’South Africans need to make a difference’
Despite the weight of expectations, Jeremy (56) was forced to make the choice to either reach his goal or be with his daughter in a time of crisis. Jeremy shares his learning, “not to lose sight of your perspective on priorities, uphold family values and appreciate the power of a united, supportive family. In a media interview before they left Lara was quoted saying: “I feel more excited than scared but I will have my dad to protect me if anything goes wrong!

“Life is about treading slowly and appreciating every step of the journey, as often it is more important than the destination,” says Lara, who works full-time at Ikamva Labantu, an NGO umbrella body that supports over 1 000 community projects.

With a philanthropic heritage, and a father who supported orphanages throughout his lifetime, businessman Jeremy believes in getting South Africans to make a difference. “We need the youth of today to become our future leaders, which is why we decided to put the funds towards education. We want to give these children opportunities they never would have had,” he said.

“The goal of our journey was to show South Africans the power of an individual’s gift of giving,” says Jeremy. “We have raised R126 000 so far and will continue to make a real difference by endeavouring to drive more donations from the public to support children through their education process.”

“Our biggest dream is to raise the necessary funding for this campaign. It would be so powerful to educate children to empower themselves,” said Lara who spearheads the NGO’s youth chess programme. “My dad used a great metaphor on our last hike. 'We do not want to give the children fish, we want to teach them how to fish'.”

Climbing a challenge
Having both climbed Kilimanjaro, the Chaitman’s have intended to summit a seven summit peak together for years. In preparation for their ascent, the pair tackled a new hike each weekend since April, predominantly in the Cape Point area, Constantia as well as Kalk Bay and Table Mountain.

The route, that took seven days, saw them climbing in temperatures of minus 22 degrees. They spent the first few days acclimatising to the altitude hiking for six hours in incessant rain and hail at lower elevations of between 2 100m and 3 100m.

“After our two acclimatisation hikes on the lower slopes we travelled up to the barrels where were based for the summit. The next day we did a six hour hike with crampons (spikes that you clip onto your snow boots which help to break the hard snow guided by our Russian guide, Oleg who has achieved over 80 summits,” Lara shared.

“A day of rest followed which included a serious talk on mountain sickness, hyperthermia and frost bite. The day before we were due to summit, we underwent self-arrest training – sliding down slopes using our ice axes to stop ourselves.”

Due to Jeremy’s knee problems and time restrictions caused by afternoon storms, the Aventure consultant guide strongly suggested Lara joined the faster group.

“I was adamant that I summit with my dad. He on the other hand said it would be a tragedy if both of us did not summit. I agreed under duress, but it was a very difficult and emotional decision and a likely reason for my cerebral oedema. It was a pity I did not trust my gut and start my summit with him,” she said.

“Even though we did not summit, we have experienced the most amazing memories together. We have bonded and supported each other like never before and that is the essence of the Journey to the Peak campaign,” Lara said. “The importance of family, love and completing journeys together. There will be more mountains and more challenges!”

For further information on the Journey to the Peak Mount Elbrus ordeal or if you’d like to donate go to or donate R20 by sms’ing the word ‘mountain’ to 40051. A donation of R500 will enable a child from a disadvantaged background to experience a summer camp, R1 000 covers school books for a year and R1200 provides annual transport costs. – (Press release, August 2009)




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