Former tennis star Martina Navratilova was hospitalized after her attempt to climb Kilimanjaro was cut short when she experienced high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a potentially fatal form of altitude sickness. HAPE is a dangerous build-up of fluid in the lungs. The treatment for HAPE is immediate descent.
“I didn’t feel badly, I just couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get a full breath of air,” Navratilova said. “Nothing hurt, and for an athlete that’s weird. Nothing hurt but I (couldn’t) go on.”
Navratilova, 54, was climbing a variation of the 7 day Rongai route as part of a charity climb consisting of 27 team members. From her blog, it appears that she had breathing complications beginning on day four, when the group camped at Horombo Huts (3,700 m/12,200 ft). The highest elevation she reached was 14,800 feet.
By all accounts the team experienced wet and cold weather for the majority of the time. It was snowing and sleeting on days three and four.
“Nobody had fun. It was just survival, just pure survival,” Nvratilova said. “Trying to stay dry, trying to stay warm, trying to eat enough, drink enough, to survive the day. The conditions were just so unpleasant.”
The conditions took their toll on the group as only 18 of the 27 that began the climb made it to the top.
In her journal, she wrote the following just hours before descending: “I’ve never been so utterly exhausted. Everything is taking monumental effort, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, setting up tent.”
A doctor on her climb told her she needed to turn around. She was taken down the mountain on a stretcher and taken to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre for treatment. As a precaution, she was flown to Nairobi Hospital for further tests and was released thereafter.
Regarding her disappointment, Nvratilova said, “I always said the only failure is when you fail to try. I guess the other failure is not giving your best effort. I did both: I tried and gave my best effort.”