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LOCALS tackle the Himalayas FOR A CAUSE

Think Local

At a party to ring in 2015, Dr Kaustuv Bhattacharya, the paediatric metabolic specialist at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, was discussing challenges he was facing at his work, when the idea to raise money to fund the institution's research arose.

Dr Bhattacharya regularly works with patients that have amino acid disorders, fatty acid oxidation defects and Rett Syndrome - a genetic, post-natal neurological syndrome that affects one in 10,000 people.

"[The patients] have really severe diseases and they do it extremely tough," Dr Bhattacharya tells North Shore Living.

"I don't think there's enough public awareness about some of the hardships they face."

Two years later and talk turned into action. The group of North Shore locals completed a charity ‘Himalayan Challenge' in April this year, which consisted of a trek to above 5,400 metres above sea level. Their target was to raise $100,000 for the Rare Disease Research Fund at The Children’s Hospital, yet they ended up raising an astonishing $137,000 for the vital fund.

Two members of the team, Dr Bruce Bennetts, from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, and Michael Roberts, another parent, continued on to climb to the 6,189-metre summit of Island Peak.

“The guys said it was the most mentally and physically demanding thing they’ve ever done,” Mr Donnell recalls.

Dr Bhattacharya reflects, "The most beautiful surprise was when 14 eagles came and started circling above our heads. That was an amazing sight.”

While the trek was challenging for all, Mr Donnell was especially pushed to his limits as he has been diagnosed with Birt Hogg Dube Syndrome, a rare disorder that results in the person's lungs potentially collapsing, which meant breathing in high altitudes was extremely challenging.

"We were taught one breath in or out with every step. That gave us all a bit of a pace," he says.

"Early on in the trek, there were a few of us who suffered from altitude sickness that manifests with shocking headaches, making it hard to sleep."

For Dr Bhattacharya, it was very much the physical side of the trek that he found extremely testing. "While I had been going to the gym and had been training for it, I think there was nothing to prepare me for the altitude,“ he says.

Eight weeks prior to the trek, in preparation for the challenge, the team joined up for a series of 35km loop walks around the North Shore.

"At times, we would carry a 20kg pack on our back to ramp up the training," Mr Donnell says.

"By the time we left, we were all going extremely well on the long walks, which stood us in pretty good stead by the time we got onto the mountains."

The prospect of returning to the Himalayas in the future is definitely on the agenda for Mr Donnell.

“I have four kids,” he says, “and we've done a bit of trekking together in the past and I think they would have an absolute ball over there.

“They would just be as stunned as I was, so I think that may happen in the future.”

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