Medical student’s Everest climb could save countless lives

Lucy Brennan, right, was part of the team scaling Everest to conduct potentially ground-breaking research which could help save lives of critically-ill patients.
Lucy Brennan, right, was part of the team scaling Everest to conduct potentially ground-breaking research which could help save lives of critically-ill patients.

CLIMBING to dizzying heights up the world’s tallest mountain to conduct a potentially ground-breaking experiment was just another day at work for a Rustington medical student.

Lucy Brennan, of Preston Avenue, has spoken about her once-in-a-lifetime trip, reaching 12,000ft up Mount Everest to take part in a set of tests, the results of which could radically alter the survival rates of intensive care patients across the globe.

For four weeks, the 24-year-old former Worthing College student joined a team of intensive care doctors, nurses and scientists from the charity Xtreme Everest 2, as well as a group of children and their parents taking part in the research.

Lucy, who now studies at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, helped conduct experiments on the youngsters at the research station in the Namche Bazaar base camp, to test how they responded and adapted to low-level oxygen conditions.

It’s hoped that the results will help identify the key characteristics which help some people cope better with lower blood oxygen levels than others.

Lucy, who also works part-time at the world-renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, said: “The scenery was incredible and I felt really privileged to be out there and to be part of such an innovative experiment.

“The point of Xtreme Everest 2 was to find out what makes people adapt well, and take advantage of this to produce novel treatments targeted at those who are at high risk of dying.

“We found that as we got higher up the mountain, oxygen saturation dropped in everyone.

“However, the effect of this was very different for each individual. For example, my oxygen saturation was 78 per cent at base camp. Ordinarily it should be around 98 or 99 per cent.

“If a patient had this saturation here in the UK they would be very ill in hospital, yet I was unaffected. This may have something to do with my own genetics and adaptive mechanisms to low oxygen.

“This is what happens in intensive care, with some patients coping well and others unfortunately dying.”

A BBC film crew tracked the team’s progress throughout their research.

The results will be analysed in detail at the Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at University College London (UCL). Lucy said the early indications were very “exciting”.

She added that her most memorable moment of the trip was a mini-disco that the team organised for the children inside the research base.

“It was as a thank-you and a celebration that all the research got completed. They absolutely loved it and even created dances that revolved around each test.

“Also, it was nice to hear them getting excited about science and medicine and they all felt very proud that what they were doing would be helping sick children.”

Lucy wished to thank the David Hunt Trust, in East Preston, as well as family and friends who helped fund her £2,000 costs for the scientific expedition.