Tanzania - Kilimanjaro

Michael Brown of Serac Adventure Films was head of the film crew for this expedition to Tanzania and Mount Kilimanjaro. He was working with Picture Plant to capture the story of heart transplant recipient Kelly Perkins as she climbed with her husband Craig Perkins and close friend Susan Kjesbo. Accompanied by host Bobby McKenna and guided by Bernard Shirima, both of Abercrombie & Kent the expedition was very successful. Kelly Perkins became the first heart transplant recipient to climb so high and reach the top of one of the seven summits. Brendan Riley of the Associated Press wrote an article about the trip and it has been picked up by many newspapers a web pages including ABC News and The Mercury News. There was also an extensive report and interview with Kelly Perkins on the ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings November 8th.

Congratulations to Kelly! She has a lot of courage, this was not an easy climb. High winds and freezing cold on summit day made Kilimanjaro just as hard as many high Himalayan peaks.

Kelly Perkins becomes first recorded heart transplant patient
to reach top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

California Native Promotes Organ Donation, Climbs To Nearly 20,000 Feet To Set World’s Record

November 6, 2001 (Burbank, CA) – In an inspirational story of courage, determination and triumph, Kelly Perkins has just become the first recorded heart transplant recipient to reach the top of one of the world’s “seven summits,” Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the continent of Africa. Against all odds, the 40-year-old California woman braved sub zero temperatures, altitude sickness and physical exhaustion over the eight day trek in Tanzania, arriving at the 19,340 ft. (5985 meter) Uhuru Peak on the morning of October 21, 2001. Kelly climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to demonstrate that organ transplant recipients can live a full life when given a second chance, and to encourage others to save lives by becoming organ donors.

Kelly was accompanied by her husband, Craig, and her close friend Susan Kjesbo. Though he was in top shape, the week-long climb finally took its toll on Craig as he was forced to turn back once he reached Gillman’s Point at the rim of the crater (approximately 19,000 ft.), while Kelly and her support team pressed on to the summit’s highest point. Kelly’s arrival at the glacier-capped peak was not only a personal best for the avid mountaineer but also surpassed all previous known climbing records for heart transplant recipients by almost 5,000 feet. This accomplishment is especially extraordinary given the fact that nerves are severed during heart transplantation. As a result, Kelly’s heart does not immediately “know” when to start beating faster to supply enough oxygenated blood to match the exertion of her body. Adrenaline kicks in only after 2-10 minutes, but until then she must endure an oppressivefeeling of fatigue each time she begins to exercise.

The entire drama of Kelly’s incredible journey was captured on camera by Picture Plant Entertainment, a Los Angeles production company developing both a documentary and a theatrical motion picture based on the life of Kelly Perkins. To film the historic adventure, Picture Plant sent three-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and accomplished mountain climber Michael Brown, known for his documentary work climbing Mt. Everest. Michael and his unsuspecting crew soon became a key component of the story itself, and Kelly credits them with her ability to achieve her goal. “As we neared the summit we were confronted with powerful winds and unbearably cold weather. Were it not for Michael letting me borrow his ‘Everest’ expedition jacket and gloves, I never would have made it.”

After the tragedies of September 11, Kelly and Craig refused to postpone their trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro despite threats against Americans abroad and a sense of fear of air travel. “A wonderful person gave me a second chance to live life to its fullest, and I absolutely intend to do this,” said Kelly. With a true spirit of patriotism and American determination they traveled to Africa, more focused than ever before on getting their message out to the world. And their message is simple – everyone can be a hero and save lives through the selfless act of signing a donor card.

Due to her medical situation, Kelly was not able to take all the shots required when travelling to Africa and had to get a special medical waiver before she could enter Tanzania. Not being vaccinated left her exposed to deadly diseases like African Yellow Fever, further compounding the risk of an already dangerous challenge. Many special arrangements also had to be made for the trip to ensure Kelly’s safety and well being, including backup medication and medical support on the mountain in the event of an emergency.

Although Kelly has always loved mountain climbing, since her heart transplant in 1995 she has become a woman on a mission, determined to scale symbolic peaks around the globe. Her goal is to show the world how much an individual can accomplish when given a second chance at life through the gift of organ donation, and to encourage everyone to become an organ donor by signing their donor card. In the past six years, Kelly has inspired thousands as she has conquered some of the world’s most formidable mountains, including Half Dome, Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States, and Mt. Fuji, the highest peak in Japan.

Kelly and Craig set their sights on the tallest mountain in Africa for this latest climb because the first heart transplant in the world was done in South Africa back on December 3, 1967 by Dr. Christiaan Barnard. They were originally scheduled to meet with Dr. Barnard while there, but the elderly doctor unfortunately passed away just a month prior their trip. Instead, Kelly paid tribute to Dr. Barnard in a small ceremony when she reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Kelly and Craig also visited the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa where Dr. Barnard performed the first transplant, and took a group of the hospital’s transplant patients on a one day hike up Cape Town’s world famous Table Mountain.

Kelly’s heart transplant was performed on November 20, 1995 by the world renowned medical staff at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, including cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Hillel Laks and cardiologist Dr. Jon Kobashigawa. The UCLA team just last month implanted the fourth ever new self-contained mechanical heart, becoming only the third hospital in the world to surgically implant the revolutionary device. Heart transplantation was introduced as a clinical procedure over 30 years ago and since that time, the number of heart transplants performed yearly in the United States has increased to an annual rate of well over 2,300. Dr. Hillel Laks, an internationally renowned adult and pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, began UCLA's program in 1984, and since the inception of the program, over 1,100 patients have undergone this life-saving procedure, making it the largest heart transplantation program in the world. The procedure is now widely recognized as an effective therapeutic option for the treatment of end-stage heart disease. The development of effective immunosuppressive drugs and the refinement of surgical procedures have led to remarkable improvements in the long-term success of heart transplantation.

Kelly and Craig have devoted much of their time to the cause of organ donor awareness and transplant research, working with organizations such as Gift of the Heart: The Foundation for Cardiovascular and Transplant Research. The Gift of the Heart Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1999 by UCLA doctors and patients to support innovative research in the areas of cardiovascular disease and transplant medicine, as well as to promote organ and tissue donor awareness both regionally and nationally.

The trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro was funded through a generous grant by Fujisawa Healthcare, Inc., which makes specialty drugs for transplant recipients like Kelly. Abercrombie and Kent, Inc., internationally recognized as the premiere adventure travel and safari company, provided all of the travel arrangements, accommodations and specialty needs for the expedition, including guiding the party up to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Picture Plant Entertainment is an advertising, marketing and production company founded by David Weiss and Mendel Tropper. Picture Plant has recently worked on high-profile national advertising campaigns for programs such as the critically acclaimed NBC miniseries “Uprising,” the launch of the new series “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and the re-launch of the syndicated hit comedy “Seinfeld.” The company’s palette of creative services includes cutting-edge television and radio commercials, theatrical movie trailers, outdoor and print campaigns, and innovative 3-D animation.

Michael Brown, who documented the climb for Picture Plant, is an accomplished adventurer, director and cinematographer, who has twice climbed to the top of Mt. Everest. He most recently filmed the historic climb of Everest by blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer. Michael’s work has garnered numerous awards, including three Emmys, and his work has appeared on NBC, CBS, Discovery Channel, ESPN and Outdoor Life Network as well as in countless film festivals.

Additional information can be found
at the following websites:

UCLA Medical Center: http://www.healthcare.ucla.edu/transplant
Gift of the Heart: http://www.giftoftheheart.net/
Fujisawa Healthcare: http://www.us.astellas.com/
Abercrombie & Kent: http://www.abercrombiekent.com

Photo by Chris Eng. The Summit of Kilimanjaro 19,340-ft on October 21st Standing: Honest Kissey (Camp Cook), Michael Brown, Bobby McKenna, Susan Kjesbo, Kelly Perkins and Prosper Nzuri (Camera Porter) Sitting: Chris Eng, Bethwel Mtui (Guide) and Bernard Shirima (Guide)

The Perkins, Kelly and her greatest supporter Craig
Michael Brown/ Picture Plant 2001

Great friends: Susan Kjesbo with Kelly
and Craig Perkins
Michael Brown/ Picture Plant 2001

Kilimanjaro Links:
The Weather in Nairobi, Kenya
Craig and Kelly Perkins Story

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