McGrath a hero for saving stricken climber

Source: The Sudbury Star

Garett Williams / CP
Local News – Tuesday, May 29, 2007 @ 09:00

Nepal’s mountaineering community honoured a Sudbury woman on Monday for risking her life to save a sick climber near the summit of Mount Everest.

Meagan McGrath, 29, was lauded for her role in saving Usha Bista, a female climber from Nepal, who had fallen sick on the way to the summit May 21.

“Everyone here was quite, quite amazed,” said Nancy Griffin, media and communications specialist with Science North. “Not totally surprised, because, given Meagan’s personality and given what she has accomplished so far in her young life, it’s not totally surprising that she would do something like that.

“We were completely excited and just feeling very proud of her and proud to be her summit sponsor.”

McGrath has had contact with Science North since the rescue, but made no mention of it in her travel logs, Griffin said.

“She didn’t mention it to us. We saw it on the news wire,” she said. “And, it was kind of funny, we just thought ‘Oh, Meagan, she’s so modest, she never even mentioned it in her travel log.’ But, obviously, it’s a big thing.”

“That’s her modesty though,” she added. “That’s her.”

McGrath, an aerospace engineer with the Canadian Forces, was climbing down after scaling the 8,850-metre mountain when she came across Bista, who was suffering from cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain, which can be fatal if left untreated at a high altitude. She flew Monday to Kathmandu, where she was honoured by the president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Ang Tshering, who called her a hero for saving Bista’s life.

She was given bouquets and yellow scarves used for special occasions.

McGrath said she thought Bista was going to die when she found her barely conscious and leaning on the snowy slopes at an altitude of about 8,300 metres.

“I saved her life, but she was also dying in my hands, too. It was a very tenuous situation. I did not have everything I needed to help her,” McGrath told The Associated Press. “Her condition was deteriorating to a point where I was very concerned that she would die.”

McGrath was the first to come across Bista on the snowy trail and was then joined by another westerner and his Sherpa guide. They called other climbers for help.

Several climbers already at the last camp, South Col – at 8,000 metres – rushed to help, calling doctors at a lower camp for advice on immediate treatment. They wrapped her in a sleeping bag, tied her to a sled and dragged her down.

“I am glad I was the one person who started the chain I suppose, but I am glad someone jumped in,” McGrath said.

“As we brought her down, she was deteriorating,” she said. “She started to become less conscious to the point of mumbling.”

Bista is being treated for frostbitten fingers and toes.

In an interview Sunday, Bista said her rescuers were like gods to her who saved her from Mount Everest’s “death zone.”

“I am indebted to these people for life. I can’t believe the love and concern they showed to rescue me in spite of such a difficult situation,” Bista said.

The final and most difficult part of the Everest climb – the area above the South Col – is nicknamed the “death zone.” Rescues at that altitude are difficult because of the thin air, high winds, treacherous icy slopes and exhaustion.

Climbers afflicted with high altitude cerebral edema, a sudden, potentially fatal swelling of the brain, will display confusion, hallucinations and semi-consciousness. Victims need to descend immediately and to receive oxygen and medication.

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