Medical student, 20, becomes youngest British woman to conquer Everest despite suffering a stroke on her first attempt
Becky Bellworthy had to be carried 4,000 feet down the mountain by a sherpa after being left paralysed just 9,000 feet from the summitAfter months spent recovering and despite warnings from doctors not to attempt it again, she did and reached the summit
14:38 GMT, 28 August 2012
A medical student has become the youngest British woman to conquer Everest despite suffering a life-threatening stroke on her first attempt – at 20,000 feet.
Becky Bellworthy was too high to be airlifted and had to be carried 4,000 feet down the mountain by a sherpa after being left paralysed by the stroke in May last year.
But after recovering from the near fatal drama she made a second successful attempt despite doctors warnings it could happen again – and be much worse.
She did it! Becky Bellworthy, left, pictured at the summit of Everest which she described as 'overwhelming'
Back home in Romsey, Hampshire, Miss Bellworthy, now 20, said: 'Reaching the summit was overwhelming. I didn’t dare to think I would actually make it to the top after what happened first time.
'On the day of the stroke, I’d felt well during the day but it had been a long hike and we’d been carrying a heavy load to camp.
Determined: Becky is pictured during her successful attempt this year which she managed despite doctors warning her of the risks of a second stroke
'We were just 9,000 feet from the summit and I was looking forward to the final push. I went to bed that night exhausted.
'I woke up in the middle of the night feeling pins and needles spreading from my torso to my limbs and face.
'I patted around inside my sleeping
back looking for my left arm but couldn’t find it. Dead arms are common
at altitude because blood circulation is more difficult so at first I
thought I’d been lying in an awkward position.
sat up and tried moving around but the feeling was simply getting
worse. That’s when I realised from my medical studies I was in a serious
She added: 'I
was very scared at first. But then when I realised we were too high for
the helicopter to reach us I felt at peace.
resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t make it – I accepted I was as
good as dead. I’ve never been one to get stressed in life. I couldn’t
see the use of panicking.'
fellow climber James Ketchell, who was sharing Becky’s tent, raised the
alarm after he asked Miss Bellworthy what was wrong and realised she
He headed out into temperatures of minus 25 degrees celsius to find help.
Ketchell, 30, of Basingstoke, said: 'At first I thought she was just
very cold. /08/28/article-0-14B7E422000005DC-943_634x546.jpg” width=”634″ height=”546″ alt=”Becky Bellworthy awaits helicopter rescue after stroke” class=”blkBorder” />
Paralysed: Becky is pictured waiting for the helicopter to rescue her following her stroke just 9,000 feet from the top last year. She couldn't feel the left side of her body and her left side is still weaker than her right
She said: 'As we crossed the ladders I
couldn’t place my legs too well, and I couldn’t grip supporting ropes
with my left hand. Beneath me were 40-metre drops into darkness. I
couldn’t hold on properly, which was frightening.'
was flown to the nearest hospital in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal,
where doctors scanned her body before declaring her fit to fly home a
Back in the UK doctors prescribed medication to thin her blood.
she was told she had suffered a cerebral oedema – a swelling of the
brain commonly seen in climbers at extreme altitudes.
Becky was too high to be
airlifted and had to be carried 4,000 feet down the mountain by a sherpa
after being left paralysed by the stroke. She is pictured being stretchered on to a helicopter which flew her to hospital
'My symptoms didn’t fit. I wanted to
believe I had suffered a simple migraine and that I could go back to the
mountain straight away, but I learned that wasn’t going to happen.'
Dr Charles Clark, a top neurologist, confirmed that Becky had suffered a
vasospasmic event in her brain. Blood vessels had spasmed, restricting
circulation which led to paralysis.
'I had suffered a transient ischaemic attack – a mini-stroke. Had I stayed at altitude, I would have died.
Recovery: After the stroke she rested for several months and before trying again, determined to fulfill her ambitions
MRI scan showed there hadn’t been any permanent damage, but I was
warned that if I went back up I could suffer a major attack which would
leave me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.'
Bellworthy was ordered to rest for several months. She tried swimming
to regain strength in the left side of her body, which despite the
hopeful prognosis, is still partially paralysed today.
went for a lot of testing and I still have a significantly weaker left
side. It’s probably as strong now as it’s ever going to get. But it’s
annoying rather than debilitating.'
had dreamed of scaling Everest since she saw the peak for the first
time during a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition to Nepal when she was
Shortly before her
ill-fated first attempt at climbing Everest last May, she had entered
the record books as the youngest female climber ever to scale Baruntse, a
deadly peak in the shadow of the world’s tallest mountain.
She was determined to fulfill her
ambitions to scale Everest and, unknown to doctors and her parents, she
arranged the return trip almost immediately after flying back to the UK.
have a stroke at my age is very rare. Doctors warned me that if I tried
to climb the mountain again it could result in permanent paralysis, or
worse. But their advice wasn’t going to stop me.'
family, including terrified mother Anne, 59, father Eric, 55, and
sister Jess, 19, begged her not to make a second attempt, but she was
In April, Becky began her second attempt, aided by a doctor travelling as part of the expedition.
'I was jumping at every little ache and pain, and you get plenty of those on the way up. I knew if it happened again, even if I survived, I would never be able to climb again.'
On May 19th this year, aged 20, she became the youngest British female climber ever to reach the summit of Everest – a record broken by friend Leanna Shuttleworth, 19, just 24 hours later.
Sisters: Becky Bellworthy, left, at home with sister Jess. She said as she started to reach the summit she started hallucinating and she imagined there was a party waiting for her with music and people dancing
'Hypoxia caused me to hallucinate and I imagined there was a party waiting for me at the summit, with music and people dancing. We stayed at the top for ten minutes before starting the descent.
'I didn’t want to believe doctors who had told me not to go back, but I couldn’t put their warnings out of my mind. It was amazing that I’d got there.
'Many doubted me, which was understandable. It was a crazy thing to do. But I showed them. I did it, and it’s an amazing feeling.'
Now Miss Bellworthy is putting her mountain climbing career on hold to concentrate on her medical training at the University of Southampton, where she is entering her second year.
'I had made sacrifices to conquer Everest. I missed exams, and I am still working to catch up. But I don’t see that I made a mistake by returning to the mountain.
'In the long term, my medical practice will be more informed by my experiences. I have come to realise there is a lot of strength in everybody. Until you are in a position where your body is dying, you don’t know the strength you have.
'When you’re on the very extremity of life, you can be surprised at how much fight is left in you. You can overcome anything.'