An intrepid doctor has raised over £20,000 for diabetes charities after conquering the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere with the help of a private hospital.
Consultant Diabetologist Steve Stanaway, 45, was sponsored by the Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham, where he works in addition to his NHS duties at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, to trek to the summit of the formidable Mount Aconcagua in the Andes of South America. Standing an awesome 22,837 feet or 6,960 metres, it is the tallest mountain on earth outside of the Himalayas.
Steve, from Tattenhall, in Cheshire, battled his way through snow, high winds and sub-zero temperatures to reach the peak and double his original target of raising £10,000 for two charities close to his heart. Slogging to the summit came as the high point in Steve's year-long Aim High campaign to help young people with diabetes, because he thinks they get a raw deal.
Spire Healthcare, which owns the private Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham and Consulting Rooms in Abergele, backed the cause with the purchase of a high spec sleeping bag to cope with temperatures as low as minus 10. The cash raised by the Aim High Campaign with be split 50/50 between Awyr Las, to specifically support local young adults or teenagers who have chronic conditions, and the international charity Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, whose aim is to research for a cure to Type One Diabetes.
In his job, Steve deals on a daily basis with young people who have diabetes. He’s been shocked by some of the stories he's heard, and this inspired him to start the Aim High campaign. He explained: “Young adults with Type One Diabetes get a very poor deal in many respects. Ignorance is often what leads people to give poor assistance to others with diabetes. For example such as bosses telling workers not to bring their insulin in to work because it upsets the other workers are the kind of thing that I hear all of the time from my young patients and it’s something that needs tackling.
“Another common one is comments from workmates who suggest to the person with the diabetes that if they ate properly then they wouldn’t get diabetes. This couldn’t be further from the truth with Type One diabetes. It’s an autoimmune condition without any proven cause.I think diabetes is the most intrusive condition that you can have. It’s with you 24 hours a day, every single day. You have to think about it with every meal, every time you play sport or exercise and every time you drive. It’s an issue for your relationships and your employment prospects.
“As well as taking the insulin injections 4-5 times per day patients have the blood sugar testing to do several times a day to ensure that they stay safe from both the diabetes but also the medication they take to treat it. All of this before they have to contemplate the potential long term complications of diabetes which include severe kidney, eye and nerve damage. I think that’s really pretty awful, and I think the more support we can give people the better.”
Despite being an experienced walker, Steve had never before tackled anything so daunting as the Aconcagua ascent. After carefully planning his trip for a year, he jetted out to Chile with his friend Brad Lincoln, from Blackburn, to join a group of 10 climbers from across the world who shared a burning ambition to conquer the mighty mountain. They then flew across the border into a remote town in the Argentinian Andes to begin acclimatising for the gruelling trek. Working their way through a series of base camps the group, led by expert mountain guides, gradually got used to dizzying altitudes ranging up to about 5,000 metres.
They made their final ascent to the summit but Steve revealed that the appalling weather almost ruled out tackling the vital final leg. He said: “The weather, which had been reasonable for most of the local climbing season, turned bad just as we approached base camp. There had been sudden heavy snowfall on the high mountain, which had created an avalanche risk, and also some very strong winds. Just as it looked like we might have to call off our attempt on the summit we had some complete and utter luck when there was a window in the weather.
"The snow started to melt which took away the avalanche risk, so we eventually made it to the top of the mountain. Starting at High Camp 3, which itself sits at 5,900m, it took us nine hours to get to the top and another four to get back down but we heard that we were the first group to make it in nine days. Actually, because the cloud was closing in we weren’t able to get much of a view but standing at the summit gave me a great sense of jubilation and achievement because it was literally the culmination of a whole year of planning and fundraising. Eight out of the 10 people in our group reached the summit and it was inspiring to see that one of those – a young lady in her thirties from France – had Type One Diabetes.”
Steve added: “Tackling the mountain didn’t come easy because of the altitude, which makes you feel a little dizzy all the time, and the intense cold at night when the temperature fell to -10 Celsius below, which is what made the special sleeping bag provided by Spire Yale such a vital piece of kit. I’d certainly like to say a big thank you to Spire Yale for all the help they gave me and to my bosses at Wrexham Maelor Hospital for giving me the time off to make the trip. I originally set a target of £10,000 for the Aim High campaign but thanks to everyone who sponsored me or did their own fundraising on my behalf I have made over double that sum and I am delighted I was able to raise so much for two such fantastic causes. My friend on the climb, Brad Lincoln, raised £4,000 and my wife Deborah contributed £1,300 she made by taking part in last year’s Chester half Marathon. Another £5,000 came from my professional body, the Welsh Endocrine and Diabetic Society, of which I am currently secretary.”
Sue Jones, the Manager of Spire Yale Hospital, was full of praise for what Steve has achieved. She said: “I am delighted that Spire Yale has been able to share this fantastic experience with Steve. He is an absolute inspiration to everyone who knows him and a great supporter of these charities. As he reached the peak of Aconcagua he must have felt on top of the world.”
Chris Normington, Northern Development Manager for the charity Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said: “This is a brilliant achievement by Steve and the £10,000 he will be donating to us is the largest single amount ever to come from a single person in this region. Our vital research into Type One Diabetes costs £450 each day and the money Steve is contributing will therefore pay for three weeks’ worth of work. For one person to raise so much is incredible.”
Cath More, North Wales Regional Fundraiser for Awyr Las (Blue Sky), the charity for better healthcare in North Wales, said: “Our aim is to provide benefits above and beyond those available through the NHS, and this includes care and support for teenagers and young adults with Type One Diabetes and other chronic diseases. Receiving such a large donation from Steve is a momentous occasion for us and I would like to thank him for raising such a fantastic amount of money. He always goes the extra mile and he’s certainly done that for us on this occasion.”