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The top of the world: Edmonton heart attack survivor aims to climb Everest

Edmontonian hoping to become first Canadian heart attack survivor to climb Everest
Leo Namen has been training to climb Mount Everest, but his climb will also come with a special honour: he would be the first Canadian heart attack survivor to summit the mountain.

An Edmonton mountaineer has his sights set very high.

He’s hoping to become the first Canadian heart attack survivor to summit Mount Everest.

“I thought that if I wanted to do something, it needed to be something really remarkable, and it was nothing better than the top of the world,” said Leo Namen.

He’s a long-climb climber and avid athlete, but Namen suffered a heart attack at 48 in 2018 while working out at the gym.

“It was a really, really, really strong pain and I dropped. I basically started to die.”

Doctors told him he would never climb again. But he slowly started to recover and is now motivated to not only attempt Everest in May — but is also raising money in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

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He wants to raise $500,000 for heart research but is far off from his goal with just over $1,700 collected.

“It’s never too easy to train and work and prepare all this and have time,” said Namen.

“One of the challenges that I’m also facing right now is that in two months we’re going, we’re trying to do this big trip to Everest, and so far we don’t have sponsorship.”

Namen is working closely with University of Alberta kinesiology researcher Craig Steinback, who focuses on women’s cardiovascular health.

“I found out that women are over-dying because of heart disease,” Namen said. “Basically they’re being misdiagnosed. There are not enough studies.”

READ MORE: Edmonton hospital staff Wear Red to draw attention to heart disease in women

Steinback said that he connected with Namen through Twitter. Because Steinback’s research also focuses on body adaptation in extreme environments, he said the pair were a “natural fit.”

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“At altitude, the body is under significant stress,” Steinback said. “The major issue there is that — going to higher altitude — the availability of oxygen drops.

“Your heart has to work harder to pump more blood to get oxygen to where it’s needed.”

READ MORE: Mount Everest: What happens to your body at extreme altitudes?

Steinback said that in Namen’s case, the fact he’s had a heart attack means extra care has to be taken to be sure his heart is fully recovered.

“He’s had a heart attack,” Steinback said. “A heart attack is a heart without oxygen. He’s recovered, but now he’s going back into an environment and his heart is going to be starved of oxygen again.”

But Namen isn’t worried. He said he’s been following a strict diet, doing mental training and working out around four to five hours each day.

“Physically speaking I don’t have much physical challenges right now. My challenges right now is — we need support.”

Donations can be made on Namen’s Heart of the Summit fundraiser website. 

Namen hopes to complete the climb on his 50th birthday in May 2020.