Climbing for a cause

"A few of the girls broke down in tears because it's just so depressing," Welch said.

The climb brought its own medical challenges for many. At over 19,000 feet above sea level, the summit of Kilimanjaro is the fourth-highest place on earth. But at those altitudes the air is so thin that many climbers develop altitude sickness, a potentially fatal complication that can cause symptoms from headaches to swelling of the brain.

Two of the climbers were forced to turn back because of altitude sickness, and many others, including O'Leary, experienced its frightening symptoms.

"It was really scary, one girl couldn't stop throwing up," Welch said.

Welch was relatively symptom free, a blessing he attributed to his strict training regimen and adherence the advice of guides, who told climbers to consume 5 liters of water and copious amounts of food daily.

Still, Welch said he last 10 pounds on the 7-day climb.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life," he said.

The group's Web site can be found at www.fistulafree.org.


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