A Portadown woman who undertook a Base Camp Everest climb for charity had to be airlifted from the world’s highest mountain by helicopter after she was stricken by altitude sickness.
Mia McKeown, human resources manager for Avondale Foods, thought she was going to die, and has paid tribute to the Sherpa guides who saved her life.
The drama unfolded nine days into the trek, when Mia and her group were just a quarter of a mile from their base camp destination.
Mia had been doing the climb in memory of her father Hermie who passed away in February. He had suffered a stroke and she was raising money for NI Chest Heart and Stroke and a Filipino children’s charity.
She said, “I took a terrible headache and started vomiting. We were at 5,000 metres and there is only 33 per cent oxygen at that height. I couldn’t even open my eyes and kept drifting in and out of consciousness.
“Even though we had been taught about altitude sickness, nothing prepares you for it. I was so frightened. I really thought that was the end for me.”
Despite the remoteness of their position, Mia was able to call her husband David back in Portadown.
She added, “I owe my life to the Sherpas. They are the heroes of Everest. They helped me concentrate on my breathing and made sure I stayed awake.”
It took two and a half hours for the helicopter to reach them, a situation compounded by thick fog and the fact there had been three avalanches that morning.
She then faced a bumpy flight to Katmandu and a 45-minute road trip to hospital, where she spent three days having a series of tests.
“I was very well looked after and thank goodness, I had insurance. It just shows how important it is,” she said.
Meanwhile, at Mia’s request, on reaching Base Camp the remainder of the trekking team held aloft the NI Chest Heart and Stoke banner on her behalf.
Despite her ordeal, which took place just over a month ago, Mia hopes to return to Everest again to raise money for charity, but next time taking a different route.
She said, “I had done marathons in preparations for the climb, and up until I took altitude sickness, I had been managing well despite the weather which was really bad with snow and rain. Next time I will be concentrating on becoming more acclimatised.”
To date, Mia’s climb has raised £5,500, with 20 per cent going to the Helping Hands Healing Hearts charity for sick and dying Filipino children, and the majority to NI Chest Heart and Stroke.
Mia has thanked everyone for their support, especially her company, Avondale Foods.