Do you know where the highest peak on the planet is located? Just ask Sebastien Sasseville. He is one of three people in the world to climb it with Type 1 diabetes. Sebastien lives in Canada but travels the world and climbs mountains. That highest peak, Mount Everest, has captivated the globe for many years. The highest point of Mount Everest is 29,035 feet high (8850 meters) and is considered the highest point on earth! Sebastian set out on a 65 day expedition with temperatures as low as -30 degrees to reach the summit of Mount Everest. A major challenge for anyone, but adding in a chronic disease like diabetes creates unique challenges. Most people with diabetes have to be concerned with back up supplies and keeping insulin at the correct temperature. Sebastian had to make sure he had back up for his back up supplies as well as freezing insulin, meters/pumps working in high altitude, and freezing fingers. He did not have the luxury to call his healthcare team to help in times of trouble. On May 25, 2008 Sebastien overcame long odds to reach the top of the world. Below is an interview with Sebastian about his experience with reaching the summit of Mount Everest.
- When did you develop Type 1 diabetes and how has it changed your life?
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 22. To be diagnosed as a young adult is never easy. I was a university student and life had been quite easy till that day. It changed my life, but ultimately brought amazing things to it. I basically had to first accept that I wasn't invincible and then had to learn to do everything again with diabetes.
- What made you think about attempting to climb Mount Everest?
Just the love of the mountains I guess! But diabetes sure gave my dream a much more profound meaning and purpose. What was just a selfish dream quickly became a mission, something I decided to use to inspire myself and others. It became something that had the potential to impact other people living with the same condition in a very positive way.
- How did you train for Mount Everest?
Physically, technically and mentally. I tried to avoid too much muscular mass since it would have slowed me down in the altitude. Lots of endurance training, long days in the mountains with a heavy pack. I tried to gain weight a bit to build some reserves. Technical trainings in the mountains as well. It's been 5 years of preparation, gradually upgrading my skill set on mountains that were gradually getting bigger and higher.
- What was your highest and lowest BG on Mount Everest?
I probably never went under 3 mmol/l [54 mg/dl] or above 20 mmol/l [360 mg/dl]. The goal on Everest was survival, not optimal blood sugars. I kept myself at around 10 mmol/l [180 mg/dl] purposely to avoid low blood sugars.
- Do you wear a pump when climbing? How did your meter and pump hold up under such extreme weather?
I used an Animas pump while on the climb, I wore it all the way to summit and it worked great. Blood glucose monitors of all make are heavily affected by altitude. They lose a lot of accuracy once they are above the altitude they are approved for. I often had to rely on how I felt. I had to develop several testing techniques to get more accuracy. For example, in high altitude, I'd never rely on only one test. I always tested a few times in a row, then either averaged the numbers or went with the lowest. Again, to avoid overdosing insulin. Always best to run a bit sweet than being low when you are on a ladder over a bottomless crevasse!
- What is your meal plan during training and actually climbing?
During training I have a fairly normal diet. Lots of carbs for fuel, proteins during recovery. During climbing I have to eat the same things that the rest of the team eats. The challenge is often carb counting when you don't know what's in your plate.
- What advice would you give someone with Type 1 diabetes who is interested in extreme climbing?
To start slow with small mountains and take a lot of notes. You must learn how your body reacts to long hikes, how to camp with diabetes, what's easy and light to carry for lows etc. definitely start with day trips, learn how to prepare for everything. Climbing Everest required preparing 3 months of supplies, of back up supplies, of contingency plans, etc. Once you leave, nothing else can be done and you're going to be into the wild for 2 months so you better be prepared for every possible scenario. Also separate the altitude component from technical skills. Test altitude and your skills at different times at the beginning. For example Kilimanjaro is a great way to test your body at 6000m in a non technical environment. Get technical when altitude isn't a threat. As they both become second nature, gradually combine the two.
- What are your future goals as a climber and world adventurer?
I love big mountains. I'd love to climb high again soon. Back in the Himalayans for sure to do some more of the 8000m peaks. I'm also very seriously thinking about doing an Ironman in 2009.
Whenever you are feeling a little down about managing your diabetes, think about Sebastien and how he overcame challenges with his diabetes to conquer the wrath of Mount Everest. When you hear stories like this, it makes you believe the only limitations diabetes can have are the ones you set.
Rick Philbin, MBA, M.Ed., ATC
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Last Updated: Friday September 07, 2012 11:16:22
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