MS v Everest: One man's challenge

A Melbourne man living with Multiple Sclerosis is a step closer to realising his dream of climbing Mount Everest.


Bobby Bajram in training for Everest. Source: SBS

You wouldn’t know it, but the Multiple Sclerosis Bobby Bajram has been living with since age- 13 causes near-constant pain. Now 45, Bobby decided to dispense with pain medication – he says he replaced it with a smile.

“It’s my coping mechanism,” he told SBS News, “the pain starts at the top of my head and goes to the tip of my toes, but I didn’t like medication, it’s artificial so I smile and stay positive.”

At times, Bobby’s MS has confined him to a wheel-chair and even caused temporary blindness, but these days he has the fitness of an elite athlete. For the past two years, he’s been training for his dream – to climb the world’s highest peak - Mt Everest. Despite the pain, he trains and trains. For four hours a day, he lifts weights, runs and walks - he says he has no fear, but the sometimes paralyzing condition hasn’t been tested at high altitude.

“ Fear is something that will stop you from doing things,” Bobby says.

His neurologist, Dr Helmut Butzkueven is less enthusiastic. He admires Bobby’s enthusiasm and tenacity but says the venture could have dire consequences, warning in a letter of, “the likely fatal outcome of such a venture given that his ataxia is already quite severe and will be much worse in a hypoxic environment.”

Even while training in the Victorian Alps over Summer, Bobby suffered symptoms of an MS attack. Vision of this crippling episode can be seen on the video link to the SBS World News story.  
“I walked like that for 12-kilometres, it was excruciatingly painful but someone's got to do it and I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to give up, “ he says.

And it’s difficult to doubt it. The day SBS World News interviewed Bobby, he was hauling a make-shift 160-kilogram snow sled through a Melbourne gym. On board shouting encouragement was experienced mountaineer and Everest veteran Allan Cohrs. He’s helping train Bobby and will accompany him on a test leg to Everest Base Camp and Island Peak next month. This will allow Bobby to test his MS at high altitude, then the pair will return to Australia, assess the results then plan their assault on the summit next year.

Allan Cohrs is cautious, and tempers Bobby’s endearing enthusiasm with planning, advice and the experience of a man who has already conquered Everest with his wife who had survived aggressive breast cancer, chemotherapy and surgery.

“I've got 3-allocated high altitude climbing sherpas allocated to Bobby himself plus myself so he's going to have a team of 4-people around him constantly,” Allan Cohrs told SBS.

He is acutely aware of the risk which confronts Bobby, and sees a need to balance it with a strategy which will give Bobby every opportunity.

 “I don't feel I'm in an opportunity to take that way from him, but I do feel I'm an opportunity to provide him with the best support.  All I can do is provide the best possible care and opportunity to realise his dream - the rest is up to Bobby,” Allan says.

If all goes to plan, Bobby Bajram hopes his 2015 assault on the main mountain will raise millions for Australians living with disabilities, and change people’s perception of disability.

“It’s seen as grey right now, “ Bobby says.

“I want to make it yellow, colourful and make sure people understand people with disabilities.”

Even if it means climbing the world’s highest peak.

“It's something I feel confident about and I feel happy about so I want people with disabilities to inspire them to put a smile on their face,” Bobby says.

By Luke Waters
SBS World News

4 min read
Published 15 March 2014 at 2:02pm
By Luke Waters
Source: SBS