HAPE Medical Study

I had been on an expedition to Denali, Alaska when I was approached by a research doctor at one of the high camps after learning that I had come down with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema the previous year. He gave me his business card and asked me to call him once I was out of the mountains, which I did. He, along with several other researchers, was doing a study on climbers who had been at altitude. They were recruiting ten climbers, five who had succumbed to HAPE and five who had not. With some traveling money and a plane ticket to San Diego I flew to the University of California, San Diego. I was picked up at the airport and driven to the Universities hospital where after getting settled in my room was given a complete and thorough physical. I spent a boring night in my room and the next morning the tests began. They rolled a heart monitor and pads next to the bed and inserted the needle with a Swan Catheter which went up my elbow vein, into my chest, through my heart and into a pulmonary artery. Another needle was inserted into an artery on my wrist. I was then taken to a room and directed to a stationary bike where I was hooked up to all sorts of machinery and instructed to pedal. My nose was plugged and I had to breathe from a mouthpiece that had the oxygen content of an elevation around 13, 00 feet. My heart rate would go up…then once it stabilized the doctors did a blood draw. This process was repeated several times with the resistance of the bike increasing until I was exhausted and struggling to pedal as researcher’s yelled encouragement to continue so they could get one more blood draw. I was done in and allowed to go back to my room and rest until the afternoon where the procedure was repeated but this time being allowed to breathe sea level air. The late afternoon was spent sleeping after all the tubes were removed. I wandered over to the Torrey Pines area and walked to the ocean the next morning before flying home where it was a couple of days before I felt normal. Months later I would repeat the study at White Mountain at the universities high altitude research center in the Sierras. The basis of the study from my understanding was to prove that climbers who suffer HAPE have uneven cardiovascular pressures in their lungs. That under duress (altitude) pressures build up and when they stabilize there is an uneven stabilization of pressures and fluid leakage occurs, thus the pulmonary edema. Those that get HAPE may have uneven or higher than normal cardiovascular pressures. I remember describing the study to my family physical some months later and him just shaking his head and more or less communicating….you idiot. San Diego, California

Photo by Tim Hagan (Me attempting to breathe with HAPE)