American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Illness — Cardiac Difficulties

Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year: 2011
  • Publication Year: 2012

On June 7 at 0836, an NPS mountaineering patrol enroute to the high camps encountered a 58 year-old male climber at approximately 7,000 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier experiencing significant chest pain and labored breathing. The patient reported a history of cardiac problems, including a prior heart attack two years ago. The patient denied the current problem was a heart attack, and after an initial examination by NPS medics, declined their recommendation for immediate helicopter evacuation. However, the patient’s symptoms and vital signs were consistent with an active cardiac emergency, one which NPS medics felt required immediate, advanced medical intervention. In addition, rapidly deteriorating weather conditions indicated that the window of opportunity for air evacuation was soon to close. The rangers reiterated to the patient their recommendations and concerns, emphasizing the importance of early treatment for potential cardiac emergencies, combined with the threat of incoming weather that could possibly keep the patient on the glacier for several days. The patient consented to evacuation by helicopter and at 1002 was evacuated from the site by a LifeMed B-3 air ambulance helicopter. The patient was transported to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center where he was admitted to the facility’s Intensive Care Unit for cardiac evaluation and treatment. (Source: Mark Westman, Mountaineering Ranger)

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