After donating a kidney, former Shawnee city councilmember climbs Mount Kilimanjaro to show what’s possible

Former Shawnee city councilmember Stephanie Meyer is raising awareness about live kidney donation by hiking the highest free-standing mountain above sea level in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro. She just returned after reaching the summit on World Kidney Day, which was Thursday, March 10. She hiked with a group of other live kidney donors, sponsored by a nonprofit that aims to show that life after a kidney donation can be full and active. Photo courtesy Stephanie Meyer.

Former Shawnee councilmember and live kidney donor Stephanie Meyer just returned from climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“It was intense; I’m very sore,” Meyer said, laughing. “It was incredible. The air is a little thinner there than it is here in Kansas at sea level, so that was definitely a challenge, for sure. It’s exhausting; you’re going every day.”

Meyer’s group reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro on World Kidney Day, which was Thursday, March 10. Photo courtesy Stephanie Meyer.

Meyer traveled with Kidney Donor Athletes, a nonprofit organization that seeks to demonstrate how living kidney donors can lead full and active lives after donation.

Climbing the continent of Africa’s highest peak seemed like the perfect fit to demonstrate just that.

“We were talking and thinking, what is something we could do that would really highlight just exactly that, the fact that you can give a kidney, you can be a living donor, and you can take on the same physical challenges that you could otherwise,” Meyer said.

Kidney Donor Athletes seeks to raise awareness of living kidney donation, and, hopefully, others would see live kidney donation as a realistic option for them.

Meyer traveled with Kidney Donor Athletes, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the possibilities of living a full and active life after a kidney donation. Photo courtesy Stephanie Meyer.

Mount Kilimanjaro is actually a dormant volcano that rises to 19,341 feet above sea level.

It’s known as the highest free-standing mountain — meaning, it’s not part of a bigger range — in the world.

Here are some takeaways from Meyer’s trip:

  • Meyer’s hiked with a group of fellow kidney donors and reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro on World Kidney Day, which was Thursday, March 10
  • The hikers carried tags with pictures of their kidney recipients to help them remember
  • Meyer was one of 22 living kidney donors on the trip, and among 20 who reached the top
  • The hike took eight days total — six days up and two days down
  • Hiking started at about 7,000 feet, and each day averaged between six and eight hours of hiking
  • The descent was “brutal” with almost 24 hours of hiking and a 9,000-foot elevation loss

‘The hardest 5k’

The hike up Mount Kilimanjaro took eight days. Photo courtesy Stephanie Meyer.

Summit day (the day the hikers reached the top) was the hardest for Meyer.

The day before, they arrived at camp in mid-afternoon to recharge and take an early dinner and then rested before taking off at midnight.

The three-mile, eight-hour hike to the top took place in bitterly cold, strong winds and was almost completely vertical, at a 4,000-foot elevation gain, and in near total darkness.

“It’s the hardest 5k I think you’ll ever do,” Meyer said.

They reached the top at about 8 a.m.

Meyer said she started to feel nauseous and got sick every half hour between 16,000 to 18,000 feet. She felt wonderful but exhausted at the top.

“It’s cool to get to summit at sunrise,” Meyer said, “but the main reason I think is so you don’t see, frankly, what you’re doing, because it’s such a steep, difficult incline. I think it was sort of mentally easier that we couldn’t see it. All I’m looking at are the boots right in front of me in my headlamp, and that’s all I can see going up for eight hours, until the sun comes up.”

‘Above the clouds’

Meyer said what kept her going was “knowing that what I’m doing is just a small, small piece of what they (kidney patients) deal with every day.” Photo courtesy Stephanie Meyer.

As to what the hikers saw at the top, it was “other-worldly.”

“It’s almost like you were in space, you’re so high up you can almost see the curvature of the Earth as the sun is rising, and you’re looking around, and the top of Kilimanjaro still has ice glaciers,” Meyer said. “So… you’re above the clouds, and all you see are ice glaciers everywhere, and it’s surreal to see, absolutely surreal.”

As a living kidney donor, Meyer recalled the strenuous exercises she took to prepare for the long hike. She spent hours on the weekends carrying a 40-pound weight on hikes through Shawnee Mission Park, and did the same using a steep incline on a treadmill as well as cardio.

For Meyer though, none of that compares to the strain on kidney patients.

“Kidney patients have it so much harder than anything we did on that mountain, and they struggle with feeling well and overcoming these similar challenges every day of their lives,” Meyer added. “So, for me, that’s really what kept me going on the mountain, is knowing that what I’m doing is just a small, small piece of what they deal with every day. It was good perspective for sure.”