Climb with heart | AspenTimes.com

Climb with heart

Aspen Times writer

Kelly Perkins achieved another mountaineering first on Friday, becoming the only known heart transplant survivor to scale nearly 3,000-foot-high El Capitan.An exhausted but elated Perkins, who got a new heart 10 years ago, reached the top of El Capitan early on the sixth day of her ascent. Climbing team members shouted and cheered as Perkins, who has summited several of the world’s best-known peaks, completed her toughest climb yet.Perkins, 43, her husband Craig, 44, big-wall guides Scott Stowe and Ken Yager, expert climber-rigger Kevin Thaw and photographer-filmmaker Michael Brown took a route that had much symbolism for Perkins – through a natural rock formation known as the Heart about halfway up the wall.The slight Perkins previously topped Half Dome in Yosemite, Mount Whitney in California, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Japan’s Mount Fuji, the Matterhorn in Switzerland and New Zealand’s Mount Rolling Pin – each time to raise awareness for organ donation.For El Capitan, she added blood donation to the organ donation promoted in her earlier climbs.The previous ascents were difficult – she had to be hospitalized after struggling to the top of Half Dome 10 months after her 1995 heart transplant – and most were higher than 7,569-foot El Cap. But none presented the technical and physical difficulties she faced on the massive granite monolith that looms over Yosemite Valley.Kelly and Craig Perkins trained for their latest adventure by scaling several other rock faces, but all were dwarfed by El Cap. They and other team members started out with more than 300 pounds of supplies – including specialized medical monitoring gear, food, water, a satellite phone and filmmaking equipment.When Perkins reached the top of 19,340-foot Kilimanjaro in 2001, she became the first recorded transplant recipient to do so. Canadian heart transplant survivor Sylvain Bedard broke that altitude record in December 2004 by summiting the 21,463-foot-high Sajama volcano in Bolivia, but Perkins still has climbed higher than any woman transplant recipient, her doctor says.”She’s a type of Lance Armstrong, if you will,” said Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, medical director of UCLA Medical Center’s transplant program. “Kelly is the only woman heart transplant patient who has achieved these extraordinarily high climbs.”