published Friday, October 7th, 2011

Mount Everest ER founder talks about treating climbers in the world's highest hospital


by Chris Carroll
Dr. Dave Fitzpatrick chats with Dr. Luanne Freer after her presentation about running the hospital at Mount Everest's Base Camp at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center on Thursday. Since Freer opened the hospital there have only been 19 deaths on Everest, all of which were not able to reach the hospital.
Dr. Dave Fitzpatrick chats with Dr. Luanne Freer after her presentation about running the hospital at Mount Everest's Base Camp at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center on Thursday. Since Freer opened the hospital there have only been 19 deaths on Everest, all of which were not able to reach the hospital.
Photo by Alex Washburn.

IF YOU GO


Today's first RiverRocks event is a hike at Greenway Farms, starting at 8:30 a.m. The day also includes yoga, "cosmic climbing" and music, spread all over the city. For more information, visit www.riverrockschattanooga.com.

  • photo
    A photo of Dr. Luanne Freer crying dated 2003 as shown during her presentation on running the hospital at Mount Everest's Base Camp at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center on Thursday has served as a reminder of why she continuously goes back to work in the harsh conditions. The 23-year-old sherpa in the hyperbaric chamber to her left was one of the first seriously sick people saved by the hospital.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Dr. Luanna Freer discusses the cost of oxygen tanks used by most climbers to scale Mount Everest during her presentation on running the hospital at Mount Everest's Base Camp at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center on Thursday. Since Freer opened the hospital there have only been 19 deaths on Everest, all of which were not able to reach the hospital.
    Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It's not easy being high.

But it's a little easier with Dr. Luanne Freer, an emergency medicine physician best known for starting Everest ER, the world's highest hospital at Mount Everest Base Camp.

In Chattanooga for the Southeast Wilderness Medicine Conference, Freer told her tales Thursday night to about 100 at the Chattanooga Convention Center, touching on what she called an "unserved" Nepalese community known for attracting wealthy Westerners eager to reach the highest summit on Earth.

Nepal is the fifth-poorest country in the world. Since Freer founded Everest ER in 2002, more than 2,500 climbers, guides and others have been treated there for maladies including high altitude sickness, gastrointestinal illnesses and frostbite.

Before she secured funds for the clinic, Freer said, medical expertise was lacking, and natives who were suffering from altitude sickness were often thought to be drunk.

One such man, a twentysomething porter, dropped a heavy load he was carrying and collapsed near the clinic. He was presumed drunk, until friends brought him to Everest ER, where Freer and others discovered his brain was swelling from altitude sickness.

Freer immediately treated him with oxygen and steroids, placing him in a hyperbaric chamber "to give him a simulated descent down to 10,000 feet."

"And literally 10 minutes later, he's knocking on the plastic window saying, 'Hey let me out, I got to pee,'" Freer said. "That's why we do this. That's why we endure the cold and the hardship. Because these people would not be served."

She brought out the lighter side as well, showing one picture of a sign advertising a semi-English-speaking Nepalese doctor who treated a condition called "atrophied mammae."

"I think that means droopy boobs," Freer said, getting a big laugh.

The speech was hosted by RiverRocks and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. Half the proceeds from the $10 entrance fee went toward the nonprofit Everest ER, according to Dr. Chris Moore, the Chattanooga physician who introduced Freer.

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