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Trouble at Altitude in Argentina


May 9, 2019
Categories: Member Testimonials

After a climbing trip to Mexico ignited a desire to push beyond his limits, David Helland set his sights on one of the highest trekking peaks in the world.

The owner and operator of a construction company in central Iowa, Helland has spent the last two years climbing. Beginning in the United States, Helland’s expeditions took him everywhere from Mexico to the Matterhorn.

“I had been going to Colorado and Montana by myself and ramping it up a little bit each time—a little higher, a little bit more difficult,” Helland said. “I went to Mexico and it was this super extreme experience that I absolutely loved.”

Next up, Helland and his two friends set off for Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua. The tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, its terrain can often be deceiving at first glance. While there is no hard evidence, experts estimate that Aconcagua has one of the lowest success rates of the Seven Summits, as preparation and patience can be a tricky balancing act when it comes to the peak’s staggering elevation.

Aware of the challenges presented by one the most popular peaks in South America, Helland’s friend, a veteran climber, urged him to enroll in a Global Rescue membership before their January trip. Helland was confident he could handle it, but opted to enroll as backup plan – just in case.

“I didn’t go into it thinking I was going to have a problem.” Helland said.

As the group rolled into the approach hike for the first three days, everyone felt fine and seemingly well acclimated. After one rest day at base camp, they decided to get a bit more aggressive and headed up with their heavy packs. A rookie move, according to Helland.

“On the second night, I was lying in my tent and I could hear my lungs gurgling. I knew I had pulmonary edema,” Helland said.

A rare but serious high altitude related illness, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), can quickly become fatal if not treated right away. Typically, most symptoms are relieved by descending to a lower altitude.

Helland wasn’t quite ready to give up on his climb all together though.

“I thought, I’ll just go to base camp and stay for a day or maybe two and then it’ll go away,’” Helland said. “But by the end of the next day it was not getting better. My pulse oximeter rating was going down.”

That’s when Helland contacted Global Rescue.

Due to the risk of continuing to ascend, Global Rescue recommended a helicopter evacuation for Helland. He agreed.

“Had I pushed up another camp higher, it could have been really bad,” Helland said. “That’s the crazy thing about pulmonary edema – you go up one more level and you die or you go down and you’re fine.”

Transported safely to Mendoza, Helland recovered and then opted to head to the Patagonia region of Argentina, determined to salvage the remaining time of his trip.

“Global Rescue called to make sure that if I needed medical attention, I knew which hospitals I could go to,” Helland said.

With four more climbing trips planned this year, Helland doesn’t expect to have any problems, but won’t be traveling without Global Rescue.

“Global Rescue was certainly worth the money,” Helland said. “I will never travel without it. That sounds cliché but I won’t go on another expedition without a Global Rescue membership. Period.”

What made the difference for Helland was who was on the other end of the phone when he needed it most.

“When I was calling Global Rescue for the first time, it really impressed me that I was talking to somebody who actually knew something,” Helland said. “At most companies, they get big enough where the person you talk to doesn’t know what they need to know and you have to keep going further to get the real help you need. Everyone I talked to at Global Rescue was dialed in tight and that’s super rare.”


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