Mount Everest Trek Dedicated to Long COVID Patients
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Former dean of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine and UKZN staff member Professor Umesh Lalloo, his paediatrician wife Professor Raziya Bobat, their daughter Dr Natasha Lalloo and friends climbed to Mount Everest base camp, located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas, to create awareness of Long COVID (LC) among both patients and healthcare practitioners.
The Lalloo’s other daughter, Ms Seema Lalloo is currently recovering from LC. Bobat said, ‘This hike is dedicated to Seema, and to all those who are grappling with Long COVID. Know that you are not alone. We want to increase awareness of this condition and highlight the lack of support and empathy for Long COVID sufferers.’
Natasha Lalloo said, ‘The altitude is already affecting us all, with breathlessness and a mild tachycardia (raised heart rate) on little exertion. Many people with Long COVID experience this at their home altitude, even those who would otherwise be climbing mountains with ease. Treatment for these symptoms is patient-dependent (and depends on the specific cause). Although the recovery process is long and slow, it is indeed possible for many. Unfortunately, there are not enough healthcare practitioners who know what to do or how to approach and advise their patients, and many doctors, employers (and insurers) lack empathy for Long COVID sufferers, and fail to recognise this complex and often lengthy process.
‘To those experiencing Long COVID: we believe you, recognise your symptoms and the challenges you face, and encourage you to seek the help you need. There are indeed healthcare practitioners who can help you. Most importantly, know that you are not alone.’
The team made it to the Mount Everest base camp after a grueling eight-day hike. According to Bobat, ‘The days were tough but the scenery was spectacular. Each day brought its own challenges but we were fortunate to have a good team and eventually got to base camp. It is a really beautiful place, with the Khumbu glacier, lakes, and towering mountain peaks.
‘Everyone in the team developed coughs and colds, which made breathing even more difficult at the high altitudes. In Gorakshep, the last stop before base camp at an altitude of 5 200m, breathing is a huge challenge and it reminded us of those with Long COVID who have ongoing respiratory problems. Fatigue, malaise, myalgia, tachycardia, dyspnoea on mild exertion...we felt all of these things as we breached the 5 000m altitude mark.
‘Long COVID comes in many different forms and grades of severity, but these are a few of the common symptoms sufferers experience. Our amazing guides told us in Nepalese “bistari bistari” which means slowly, slowly. I think we all finally began to appreciate and experience personally what Long COVID may feel like physically and mentally.
‘We would not have made it without the teamwork and camaraderie. Long COVID sufferers will eventually get there with teamwork. It requires tremendous mental resilience and the support of family, friends, employers, and colleagues.’
Words: MaryAnn Francis