My long journey to the summit, while on blood-thinner medication
Patient Story Veronika R. Meyer
My coagulation self-testing monitor is my constant companion on all my expeditions. Having it with me gives me the peace of mind and freedom to embark on my adventures.
Mountain climbing is my greatest passion. By the summer of 2007, I had successfully climbed the Eiger, Mönch and other icy behemoths. I had scaled the highest mountains in Europe, Africa, Oceania, South and North America and the Antarctic. However, I still had one to go: the Everest. This mountain of mountains has already taken me to my limits several times before, but it still remained the crest of my dreams.
For many years leading up to this time, I was able to deny my health problems – after all, I was fit. At the same time, I realized that being outfitted with an artificial heart valve was inevitable.
After completing my studies in chemistry when I was 23, I started my first job at the Technikum Bergdorf near Bern, Switzerland. During a routine physical exam at this time, they found a heart defect. I couldn’t believe it. But it was true: the diagnosis I received was combined aortic valvular defect. That is an alteration on the output valve of the heart, at the junction to the aorta. There are stenoses, or bottlenecks, where the blood stagnates. And then there was the insufficiency, when the valve no longer closes completely. I had both, therefore the categorization as combined vitium. There are more severe heart defects, but one thing was certain: the muscle gets progressively weaker due to strain and I would need a new heart valve at some point.
In 1997 I agreed to have the operation, before the heart muscle became permanently damaged.
I received a mechanical heart valve and had to start taking blood-thinning medications. I quickly recovered from the surgery, but I found the visits to the doctor, who needed to control my coagulation rate on a regular basis, restricting. When my doctor suggested that I could learn to independently measure these values, I was all for it. In May 1998, I was one of the first patients in Switzerland to take a course in coagulation self-testing. Now, the monitor is my constant companion on all my expeditions. Having it with me gives me the peace of mind and freedom to embark on my adventures.
“Our desires are premonitions of the abilities that lie within ourselves; harbingers of what we will be capable of in the future.“
Back to Spring 2007. Another expedition to Mount Everest was planned. In the meantime I was 56 years old, had an artificial heart valve and could look back on four unsuccessful attempts to climb Everest. Twice due to bad weather conditions and twice due to illness, which made the ascent to the summit impossible. This time, we approached the highest point on earth from the north side. During the acclimatization period in the base camp at an altitude of 6,400 meters, I pledged to conquer my nervousness and approach the mountain with Asian tranquility. I almost effortlessly achieved the ascent to the final camp before the summit, at an altitude of 8,300 meters. I felt good. Finally, our guide announced: “We will set out tonight at nine.” My first thought was: “What, tonight?!” But suddenly, a great calm came over me. I was ready. We ascended in silence. It was snowing and it was dark night. We had reached the foot of the triangular snow field that lay just below the peak. We only had to master the summit ridge and the last stretch of the climb, as our Sherpa softly whispered: “summit”. We made it.
Based on the book “Gaias Gipfel. Mein Weg vom Gantrisch zum Mount Everest” by Veronika R. Meyer, published 2011 (Appenzeller Verlag)