Three Winston-Salem men will leave Feb. 9 for Argentina, where they''ll attempt to climb the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere to benefit the Epilepsy Information Service at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Richard Jacobson, a third-year student at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, organized the effort, called "Climbing for a Cause." His fellow climbers are Brett Pence, 36, owner of ROC Ltd. Indoor Climbing, and Rick Phillips, 35, an employee of the U.S. Postal Service in Greensboro.
Team members are paying their own travel expenses, so all "pledges of support" will go directly to the Epilepsy Information Service, a national toll-free phone line that answers questions about epilepsy and its treatments, provides educational materials and gives patients and their families a chance to talk through their fears and concerns.
The service answers more than 7,000 calls a year. It is partly funded by a state grant, but relies on donations for the rest of its support. The team hopes to raise at least $23,000, representing the height of the mountain they''ll climb.
Jacobson learned about the Epilepsy Information Service from Pat Gibson, its director, who was one of his teachers during his first year of medical school. As a physician-to-be, he knows people with epilepsy often have to deal not only with their illness, but with mistreatment by others.
"It''s a disorder with a stigma," he said.
Jacobson has also seen firsthand the difficulties patients face when their epilepsy cannot be controlled.
"How can you take care of kids, have a job and go on with a real life if you''re having multiple seizures a day? You can''t. They are victims of a disease they could do nothing to prevent."
Jacobson hopes the climb will call attention to the disorder and the information service. On Feb. 12, he and the team will begin their ascent to the base camp of Mt. Aconcagua in the Andes of western Argentina. At 22,835 feet, its summit is just one mile below the summit of Mount Everest
"It''s a serious endeavor," said Jacobson. "It takes most teams 12 to 16 days to reach the summit. Outside the Himalayas, it is the highest mountain in the entire world."
Jacobson said the climb isn''t technically difficult, but poses danger because of the cold and the high altitude. Temperatures at the summit could range from minus 40 degrees to 10 degrees. There is also the danger of mountain sickness, an illness that can affect climbers at altitudes above 10,000 feet. In severe cases, fluid can build up in the brain and around the lungs, which can be life-threatening.
"If we adjust to the altitude well and the weather is good we have a very good chance of reaching the summit," Jacobson said.
All three are experienced climbers. Pence grew up in mountains of Montana. Jacobson has been climbing seriously for 5 years, but has been an avid hiker since age 10. Phillips has tackled the major climbing challenges in the United States.
Phillips is taking a leave of absence from his job to make the climb. The trip will coincide with Jacobson''s one-month break from medical school.
Jacobson, son of Martha Jacobson of Winston-Salem, is a native of Forsyth County. He grew up in Kernersville and graduated from Bishop McGuinness High School.
For information on how to contribute, call the service at 1-800-642-0500. Or send a check to the Epilepsy Information Service, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27157. Contributions are tax deductible.
Media Contacts: Karen Richardson, (336) 716-4453 or Jim Steele, (336) 716-3487.