2006 image of Spaniard Dr. Jose Ramon Morandeira, climbing a Via Ferrata on Riglos Towers, near his home town of Zaragoza, northern Spain, courtesy of JR Morandeira (click to enlarge).
Dr. Morandeira: "Could David Sharp have been saved? Definitely"
Posted: Jun 15, 2006 01:19 am EDT
Basque and Spanish Himalaya climbers are some tough cookies. Upfront, skilled, smart and proud - when they are spotted around a dining table in Kathmandu, other climbers whisper and point. These guys walk the line right to the edge, and when the hills have been too rough on them, they have a favorite doc: Dr. Jose Ramon Morandeira. Veteran climber and Head of Research at Zaragozaâs University Hospital, Morandeira decided to specialize in treatment of frostbite and emergency mountain medicine for personal reasons.
"When I came home with frostbitten fingers after a climb, my Doctor wanted to amputate," Morandeira told ExplorersWeb. "Without a doubt the physician had the best of intentions â among other things, he was my father."
"But I refused to have my fingertips cut. I had the wounds treated and my fingers were eventually saved. Ever since then, I've specialized in frostbite treatment and research, to protect injured climbers from excessive amputations."
Trouble in the mountains? Visit Zaragoza
Over the years, the doc has become an international authority in mountain medicine. Carlos Pauner and Juan Oiarzabal are among his patients. But an increasing number of climbers from other countries change their plane tickets when something goes wrong and make a stop over in Zaragoza (northern Spain), hoping to be treated by the Doctor before returning home.
Jose Ramon is also Director of the Masters Program of Emergency Mountain Medicine at Zaragoza University, and has written nearly a dozen books on the subject.
"Prevention not only saves lives, but also a great deal of money," he says. "A large number of accidents in the mountains could have been easily avoided â but try to explain that to the families of the dead or to those who are left crippled for life."
Everest - David Sharpâs case
ExplorersWeb asked the Doc for his view on the recent case of David Sharp on Everest. David became ill on descent from the summit on May 14, was passed by dozens of climbers - none of whom helped him. He was found still alive by several teams including by Mark Inglis and a Sherpa. They gave him O2, but no rescue party was called. David died sometime later (see previous stories).
After reading the witnessesâ statements, Dr. Morandeira is clear on his diagnosis:
He could have made it â we could have tried
"Definitely, David would have had many possibilities of being saved if someone had cared for him on the spot, and then helped him down. Iâve seen people in the mountains in a much worse state - and they made it."
"I can't guarantee he would have survived the rescue, but at least people around him would have had the satisfaction of knowing they had tried their best!"
"Climbers who passed him could have administered first aid, while a rescue team was called up. Virtually all Everest climbers on summit push carry O2, spare warm clothes, water, acetazolamide (commercial name is Diamox) and aspirin â exactly what David would have needed to stay alive until a rescue team arrived. But of course no rescue team was called; and of course, no one stayed with him to help."
There was a time when all climbers would have jumped to the rescue
"From my point of view as a Doctor and most of all as a climber all words seem too soft to describe this kind of behavior," says Jose Ramon.
"It is an aberration! I guess I am too old, I guess these are not my times anymore, and Himalaya is not what it used to be. But not so long ago (letâs say 15 years), in a situation like that, all of us present would have jumped to the rescue. And if we saved a climberâs life, we returned home utterly proud and satisfied, with or without a summit."
"Back then we were moved by a weird, indefinable value we called âmountaineering spiritâ, which basically involved climbing mountains and reaching summits, but not at any cost."
"Those times are gone, and I feel like an old mountaineer in his sixties defending out of date values and longing for a world which is no longer there."
No one cares for âlosersâ
"However, this is not just a climbing issue," Jose Ramon said. "The current environment on commercialized Everest, where only success and money count, is only a reflection of our world today. Those who canât follow the leaders are considered losers, and thus despised."
"Just like David, wounded and lost on Everest. No one cared for him anymore: 'He should have hired a better team, instead of being so cheap, he should have been fitter,' the passing climbers might have figured. I canât help thinking that if David had thought of shouting: 'Iâll give you a million dollars if you get me out of here,' he could still be alive."
"Recently some climbing teams offered me to go with them to Everest as an expedition doctor. I refused â I donât want to go there, ever. It would be too depressing."
Dr. Jose Ramon Morandeira has two degrees: one in Medicine and another in Journalism. Through the years he has gained world-wide prestige as an expert in altitude-related injuries and Emergency medicine in mountain environments. He has written several books on the subject, and has received countless awards and honorary mentions for his work.
As a mountaineer, he has climbed on rock, ice, and high-altitude peaks in the Alps, the Andes, Africa and Himalaya. He has been a member in expeditions on Baruntse and Makalu. He was also University champion in cross-country skiing, and has won several alpine skiing races.
Currently in his sixties and with fairly damaged knees, he has to limit himself to hiking and climbing in the Pyrenees area near his home. Jose Ramon is Head of Research at Zaragozaâs University Hospital, as well as Program Director of the University's Master in Emergency Mountain Medicine. Morandeira also finds time to attend frostbitten climbers coming to him from all over the world.
Chronology of David Sharp's last hours, according to climbers reports, as was provided to Dr. Morandeira:
On May 14, 2006 - Everest north side: British David Sharp, independent climber under Asian Trekking climbing permit, gets into trouble, apparently after reaching the summit. He makes it down to the Rock Cave at 8400m, but collapses less than one hour from camp.
May 14, 10 PM - The Turkish expedition starts their summit push from Camp 3 (8300m).
May 14, 11 PM - 1st Turkish group find Sharp. Sharp is sitting up and they tell him to move on. They don't understand his answer and continue ascent. They claim that they do not understand he has severe problems.
May 14, 11.15 PM - 2nd Turkish group observes Sharp and believe he is dead or sleeping. Sharp is lying down.
May 15, 1 AM - A guide from Himex (Russell Brice's Himalayan Experience commercial expedition) finds Sharp "alive", "shivering", "no gloves", "signs of severe frostbite in hands and face". He radios to expedition leader Brice and is advised to move on up (Ed note: This statement has later been denied by the commercial expedition leader).
May 15, 9.30 AM - Mark Inglis, and a couple of other climbers/Sherpas (Himex, Arun trek, Turkish) find Sharp still alive but in "very poor condition" and severe frostbite. A Sherpa finds oxygen nearby and administers it without effect. Sharp has no gloves. They radio expedition leader Brice and are told to move on. Expedition leader says "He is in effect dead". According to Inglis, they are the only people helping Sharp.
According to Mark Inglis about 40 people pass Sharp on their way to the summit and back. Weather is good and most climbers make the summit.
May 15, 8-9AM - A climber from Himex expedition finds Sharp still alive and on his hands and knees. The climber radios expedition leader Brice and is asked what to do. He is advised to keep moving down to camp (Ed note: This statement has also been denied by Russell Brice).
May 15, 11 AM - Himex Sherpas with helmet mounted cameras meet Sharp. They ask "What is your name?" and Sharp answers, "My name is David Sharp, I am with Asian Trekking", "I just want to sleep". The Sherpas contact expedition leader Brice and are advised to move on down.
(Ed note: Close to one month after the incident, Himex expedition leader Russell Brice issued a press release contradicting part of his team members' statements.)
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