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Helicopter taking off from base camp Pulmonary Edema Evacuation from Base Camp
May 9, 1997
By Howard Donner

A Malaysian team Sherpa was evacuated from Base Camp by helicopter this morning, due to a combination of pneumonia and high altitude pulmonary edema. The Sherpa had apparently just come up to Base Camp from a lower elevation, and was weak and short of breath. The Malaysian Doctor, Saye Khoo, examined the patient during the night and measured a blood oxygen saturation of 20%. Because this is such an alarmingly low reading, it is doubtful that this represents a true saturation; however, his oxygen saturation level was obviously low enough to warrant an immediate evacuation.

Examination revealed a high fever and crackles in both lung fields, which suggests there was fluid in both lungs. The Sherpa also had diminished sounds over his left lung field, causing Dr. Khoo to wonder whether there was a partial lung collapse. The patient appeared to be suffering from either bilateral pneumonia, or high altitude pulmonary edema, or both. At these altitudes, missing one or the other diagnosis can be fatal. Therefore, Doctor Khoo opted to treat for both, using both hyperbaric treatment (in a Gamow bag) plus supplemental oxygen and potent intravenous antibiotic. By morning the patient's saturation had improved to 85 - 90%, on four liters of oxygen per minute.

Often the differentiation between HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) and an infectious process such as pneumonia can be made only after a day or two of resolution at lower altitude (i.e. pneumonia will persist following descent, whereas HAPE will typically resolve fairly quickly following descent). Hospital x-rays, sputum cultures, and additional blood work will also help to differentiate HAPE from an infectious process. Although the Sherpa was carried by an inflatable stretcher to the makeshift helicopter pad at Base Camp, he was able to walk, with assistance, the last few steps from the stretcher to the helicopter. Last year, a Sherpa came off Everest very sick with HAPE and unfortunately died while being treated in Kathmandu.

Current weather forecasts continue to predict high winds aloft, and our climbers (David Breashears, Jangbu Sherpa, Pete Athans, David Carter, and Ed Viesturs) are now opting to wait out the high winds in the relative comfort at Base Camp. Ed, who spent the night at Camp II, is coming down to Base Camp to rest with his team mates. Along with the high-tech weather forecasts received from the U.K., a simple glance up the Lhotse Face reveals persistent snow plumes extending from the summit ridge.

June 10, 1997: Back Home (27)
May 25, 1997: Climbers Return to Base Camp (26)
May 24, 1997: Descending Toward Base Camp (25)
May 23 PM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Safely Off the Summit (24)
May 23 AM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Reach the Summit! (23)
    Hear the archived live audio broadcast from the summit
    Read the transcript of the broadcast from the summit
May 22, 1997: Bid for the Summit (22)
May 21, 1997: Helicopter Crashes at Everest Base Camp (21)
May 20, 1997: Moving On Up (20)
May 19, 1997: Poised at Camp II (19)
May 18, 1997: Departing for Camp II (18)
May 17, 1997: Dead Sherpa Found on Khumbu Glacier (17)
May 16, 1997: Jet Stream Winds Blast Camp II (16)
May 13, 1997: Receiving News from the North Side (15)
    May 13, 1997: RealAudio Interview with David Breashears
May 11, 1997: Five Climbers Presumed Dead on the North Side (14)
May 10, 1997: The Waiting Game (13)
May 9, 1997: Pulmonary Edema Evacuation from Base Camp (12)
May 8, 1997: A Hasty Retreat to Base Camp (11)
May 7, 1997: Sherpa Falls To His Death On The Lhotse Face (10)
May 6, 1997: Spin: A Passenger to the Summit (9)
May 5, 1997: Delayed at Advance Base Camp (8)
May 4, 1997: NOVA Climbers Leave Base Camp for Their Summit Attempt (7)
May 1, 1997: NOVA Team Prepares for Summit Attempt (6)
April 26, 1997: Indonesian Expedition First to Summit in 1997 (5)
April 23, 1997: Expedition Leader Dies at Everest Base Camp (4)
April 22, 1997: Japanese Expedition Pulls Out (3)
April 16, 1997: Traffic Reports on Everest (2)
April 14, 1997: Rescue Season Begins (1)

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