Christian Long

Ken Kamler: Medical Miracle on Everest

In TED Talks on April 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Reflection by ALEX C.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Ken Kamler:  Medical Miracle on Everest

In Ken Kamler’s presentation, he tells a story about the incredible power that the brain has and how that can relate to will power.

Ken has been on 6 climbs to the summit of Mt. Everest, 4 with national geographic, and 2 with NASA. His fourth trip happened to be when the worst disaster on Mt. Everest would occur. He was the only doctor on the climb. Before they had started climbing a comet had passed across the mountain and the local Sherpas said that this was a bad omen, and they were right.

Mt. Everest is 29,035 ft above sea level. At the peak there is one third as much oxygen as there is at sea level. The summit temperature is -40°F coupled with 20-40 mph winds. There are four camps. Base camp start at 17,500 feet, the next camp is Camp I which is 2,000 feet higher. Camp II is 2,000 feet higher, Camp three is another 2,000 feet higher and, Camp four is 3,000 feet below the summit. Once you get to camp four you have 24 hours to decide whether or not you are going to go for the summit because at that point everyone is on oxygen.

The expedition that he was on was for National Geographic. There was an American, New Zealand, and IMAX team.

When you want to go for the summit of Everest you wanna make sure that there is now wind. The day before the accident there were lots of winds on the summit, but that night it died down. That early morning the teams decided to climb up the mountain. Keep in my mind that Ken Kamler was actually still at camp III. All of a sudden a storm came in with massive winds. They were the worst winds that Ken had ever seen. He had to lay out all his supplies inside the tent to keep it from blowing away. The worst part was that there were climbers on the summit ridge which is the hardest part to climb on Everest. I you fell to your left you fall 8,000 feet into Nepal and id you fall to your right you fall 12,000 feet into Tibet.

During the storm Ken was in radio contact with some of the climbers Rob Hall the leader of the New Zealand team had stopped with Doug Hanson who was now too weak to come back down. There were other reports that Beck Weathers had collapsed in the snow and had died. The two best climbers that had yet to climb, Todd Burleson and Pete Athans, decided to try and rescue some of the stranded climbers. When they got to the summit ridge it was complete chaos. They began stabilizing some of the climbers and those that could walk under their own power were sent back down the mountain. The others would wait at camp four. As the climbers passed camp three Ken would check them out and determine if they were fit to continue on.

Rob Hall radioed in again saying that he was in fact now too weak to climb down and Doug had died. Where he was he was beyond rescue so he asked to be patched in to his wife. His wife was 7 months pregnant and during that call they picked a name for their baby.

After sending the climbers down the mountain Ken proceeded down to 21,000 feet where more supplies would be waiting to meet him so he could treat the climbers. Most of the climbers were frostbitten and suffering hypothermic.

While he was treating injured climbers all of a sudden Beck Weathers stumbled into the tent. He was said to be dead already. He was completely lucid, but severely frostbitten.

Beck said that he got lost in the storm fell in the snow and then laid there unable to move. Some climbers passed him and said that he was dead, but in fact he wasn’t. He was just unable to move or say anything. He was in a state where he was unaware of his surroundings but unable to blink just to show that he was alive.

Beck laid there for a day a night and another day. Then he thought to himself, “I don’t want to die I have a family.” The thoughts of his family gave him enough energy to get up and find his way to the camp. He had reversed an irreversible hypothermic state.

Mr. Kamler then showed a SPECT scan of what may have been going on in Beck’s head. A SPECT scan shows the energy of the brain and where the focuses are. Since it is hard to explain the different images I will let you watch the video to see what the brain activity would have been like for Beck.

What makes this story so unique is that someone who was on the verge of death saved himself by just thinking of what he loved and why he should want to live. This could potentially save lives. If someone has such a strong will power like Beck to get up out of the snow after being there for about 36 hours. People may be able to survive some variants of gun shot wounds if they have something form to hold on to. Now that may seem a little bit over exaggerated, but just thinking can save your life.

All Beck did was think.

In total, 5 climbers died.

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