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Lung-transplant patients to climb North Africa's highest mountain

Medically-supervised expedition up 4,167-m-high Mount Toubkal – patients from six countries
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Bild: Walter Klepetko
In 2017, ten lung-transplant patients, medically supervised by their doctors from MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m). Their intention was to show the level of fitness and quality-of-life they had regained as a result of their transplants. Two years on, a group of 16 patients is to climb Jebel Toubkal in Morocco.

(Vienna, 26 August 2019) In 2017, ten lung-transplant patients from several countries, medically supervised by their doctors from MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m). Their intention was to show the level of fitness and quality-of-life they had regained as a result of their transplants. Two years on, a group of 16 patients from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Cyprus is to climb Jebel (Mount) Toubkal in Morocco, which, standing at 4,167 m, is the highest peak in North Africa.  The expedition will set out on 1 September 2019, hoping to reach the summit on 7 September.

"During this "Atlas Trail", the patients will be examined every day to make sure they are being properly cared for and their health safeguarded. In addition to their vital signs, blood gases, kidney values and electrolyte levels will also be measured, and their altitude sickness score determined," explains Peter Jaksch from the Department of Surgery at MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital, who has been looking after lung-transplant patients for 18 years. A total of around 30 doctors will accompany the expedition, 16 of these from MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital.

Sixteen lung-transplant patients, who have previously been examined by a sports physician and have completed an individual fitness programme, will attempt to reach the summit of the Atlas mountain within one week, the youngest being a 27-year-old from Greece and the oldest a 65-year-old Austrian. According to Jaksch, the aim is "to show that, even after serious illness and major surgery in the form of a lung transplant, it is possible to lead an active life again." The achievements of the Kilimanjaro climbers have already shown that it is possible to enjoy "exceptional quality-of-life and fitness", despite having had a lung transplant.

All-round fitness check & live videos
A number of medical tests to measure physical stresses are scheduled during the ascent and descent: immunosuppression levels will be checked, sleep screening carried out and saturation, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen, carbon dioxide and lactate values measured. Several scientific publications and presentations to specialist conferences are planned based on the results of the investigations and on the overall concept of the expedition.

In addition, videos will be taken – including some captured by drone – for a professional TV documentary. It is also planned to show quasi-live daily reports of the expedition on the MedUni Vienna website at www.facebook.com/MedizinischeUniversitaetWien and to record the highlights.

Vienna is one of the top centres in the world for lung transplantation
The first lung transplant was performed at Vienna General Hospital/Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna in November 1989. Thirty years later, the Medical University of Vienna or Vienna General Hospital is regarded as one of the top four centres for lung transplantation, alongside Toronto, Cleveland and Hanover. Between 100 and 120 patients a year "get their second wind" in Vienna. A total of 1,800 transplant operations have been performed since 1989.  

"Due to the large number of transplants performed at MedUni Vienna, we are able to conduct large-scale studies and to develop and apply new surgical techniques," explains Walter Klepetko, Head of the Department of Surgery at MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital and long-standing head of the internationally respected lung-transplant programme, “and, in turn, this reinforces the leading position that our centre in Vienna enjoys worldwide."