This is the third and final post in the Mt. Rainier series.
September 28, 2015
By Dee Meisner
I am an “Alpha.” That’s what we Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency patients call ourselves. We have a rare genetic condition that results in reduced levels of a protein that protects our lungs from inflammation and results in reduced lung capacity, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and, in some cases, liver disease. I have never let my diagnosis define me or limit my abilities. It was that attitude that led to my crazy dream to hike as high as others do, to climb mountains.
Last year, I attempted the nine-mile, round trip trek from Paradise Trailhead to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier (Washington, US). The peak of this hike is nearly 10,000 feet in elevation, a height that makes breathing a challenge for even the fit athlete. But, for an Alpha like me, it’s exponentially more difficult. Although I fell short of my goal last year, I did not give up. This year, with the help of CSL Behring, I had a team behind me and that made all the difference. They sent 15 employees to join me on this adventure.
I wasn’t nervous about completing the hike until just before my CSL team arrived. I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially those who had jumped to volunteer to hike this journey with me. But, as the team arrived we seemed to immediately mesh like we had known each other for years. The chatter as we had our first full view of the enormity of the “monster” was deafening. I heard so much excitement and amazement during the first effort of hiking together as a team that my nervousness faded away. Amid all the determined faces surrounding me, I decided I would not allow myself to fail.
Though we left for Camp Muir in groups, we were one determined team. As the first group made it to Camp Muir, I was endowed with their strength. With them in my mind and all others in sight, whether it was ahead or bringing up the rear, we all prodded step by step through the vast snowfield after having passed the alpine meadows and lower views of the enormous Nisqually glacier. The fog teased us until we reached Pebble Creek where the views opened up to the most incredible challenge before us. But, with no talk of defeat, we continued.
The snowfield seemed never-ending and at Anvil Rock I felt as though I was going to give up. Feeling faint I sat down and looked at my pulse oximeter, which read well below the normal oxygen level. I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I began to cry, but as I looked at my team I knew then there was no turning back. They cheered me on, step by step, ignoring their own physical exhaustion.With our team song, “The Fight,” playing faintly from a mobile phone and soft words of encouragement beside me, “you got this Dee, just a little more to go,” I no longer felt my bodily discomfort or shortage of oxygen. What I felt was the warmth and love of a team of people from here and there. People who didn’t know me prior to this expedition, or realize that the work they do at CSL Behring has already enabled me to climb mountains in my life.
In the end, I feel blessed to have the ability to do this right now. This experience reinforces my belief in never giving up and letting this disease overwhelm me. CSL Behring has been in my life for so long, from the medicine I use every week to my work as an Alpha Motivator talking to newly diagnosed Alphas. My team supported me on that mountain and I know they are supporting me still.
Dee Miesner is a police officer from Cocoa, Fla., U.S.
Editor’s note: if you missed the first two posts in the Mt. Rainier series, read them here.