Kentucky doctor climbs Mount Everest to help patients back home

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Sometimes reading about a place doesn't hold a candle to seeing it in person.

Photo: CNN Newsource

University of Kentucky Sports Medicine Dr. Kim Kaiser spent much of the spring climbing Mount Everest with 26 other doctors from around the country. The climb was part of a continuing education course for Kaiser.

"So getting to fully experience altitude sickness personally as well as seeing the more severe cases come to the mountain and try to treat them was really eye-opening," Kaiser said.

The highest point in Kentucky is 4,145 feet. Kaiser said they land at the base of Everest at 7,000 feet above sea level.

"And then we hiked up to base camp which is just over 17,000 feet."

They then hiked another day to reach 18,500 feet.

"Which was another peak next door to Everest that kind of looked down on the camp and you could see the whole traverse," Kaiser said.

This has been a historic year for Mt. Everest. At least 825 climbers reached the summit this year. Climbers have received more permits than ever before, and deaths have reached a four-year high.

The deaths made headlines with pictures of a line of people who couldn't get down the mountain. Dr. Kaiser was there just before the summit started making worldwide news. Still, she saw the worst. Three doctors from her group had to come back down the mountain, which is the only cure for altitude sickness.

"They looked worse than a lot of our hospital patients," she recalled.

Kaiser could see what they call "death row" from where her team summited.

"So it's 16 inches wide where you saw all the pictures, so one misstep and you go down 4,000 feet to either side." Kaiser said, "When there are multiple people kind of in a row, and they're not feeling well, and they are more novice climbers, they can get a little freaked out with it too."

Even the most avid athletes can get altitude sickness, causing stroke-like symptoms, pneumonia and death. Now, Kaiser is better prepared to warn her patients of what they need and what they need to know, not just about climbing, but about being in the wilderness.

"So many people are active in Lexington, and they're doing a lot of these things. And as a sports medicine provider, I think I have a different set of skills for people when they say, 'Yes, where I go climbing in Colorado this is what I need to look out for.'"

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University of Kentucky Sports Medicine Dr. Kim Kaiser spent much of the spring climbing Mt. Everest with 26 other doctors from around the country. (Photo: WKYT)