December 29, 2014 4:52 pm
Updated: December 29, 2014 8:00 pm

Mountain trek to raise awareness about heart disease turns into emergency


WATCH: An annual awareness raising trip to a mountain trek in Bhutan was cut short due to sickness. Thankfully, the team was made up of three doctors. Crystal Goomansingh reports.

TORONTO- Dr. Heather Ross, a scientist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, didn’t expect to have to care for another doctor during a recent research and awareness trek in Bhutan.

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“It was an amazing experience. As has always been the case on the Test Your Limits Trip, we have a few surprise or things that were unexpected, and that’s in the realm of ‘expect the unexpected’ but I think overall the trip was an incredible success mostly in that all of us came back safe.”

Ross, along with two other doctors, a heart transplant recipient and a kidney transplant recipient travelled to Bhutan in South Asia in September with a plan to conquer one of the world’s most challenging trails, the Snowman trek in an effort to raise awareness about heart disease and the need for organ donations.

But at approximately 16,000 feet up the mountain, Dr. Suneet Singh, one of the doctors on the trip, developed acute mountain sickness.

Dr. Singh is the head of Peritoneal Dialysis at Vancouver General Hospital and is an experienced hiker but acute mountain sickness or altitude sickness can strike anyone and is the result of not getting enough oxygen at high altitudes. In extreme cases it is fatal.

“I can tell you that I have always thought of myself as fit and in control of my outcomes. I have been on many risky, strenuous adventures and always come out fine. This is the first that I have ever been scared. I think a lot of the fear is around the lack of control you have at the time,” Singh wrote in an email to Global News.

WATCH: (Sept. 26) Dr. Heather Ross preaches the need for physical activity in order to maintain a healthy heart and she’s taking her own advice.

Part of the reason the group was there was to take put the two transplant patients through medical tests. While they were fine, the group decided they needed to stop go back for the safety of Singh. But first they needed to stabilize the doctor.

“Luckily, I was putting my well being in the hands of an amazing doctor (Heather) who also happens to be my best friend. I think I have always had my share of empathy but I caught a glimpse of what it must be like to suddenly face an illness that changes your life in a moment. Hopefully, I will carry this experience in my practice as a doctor,” said Singh.

Ross and the others treated Singh with medications they brought on the trek for such emergencies. The next day she was better but the group didn’t want to risk another episode and began the journey down.

Ross says they had conducted most of the tests on the transplant recipients which will help prove how those who have donated organs can live fulfilling and active lives.

“Ultimately, there’s much that we don’t have control over but there is a lot we do have control over and I really believe as a country that we can changes heart disease by making decisions to take control and that your life is worth one hour of activity a day,” said Dr. Ross.

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