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Active in spite of MS: To the top of the Andes

When Yuval T. was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he didn’t know what his life would be like. He slowly learned that even patients with this disease can set ambitious goals for themselves – and attain them.

A FANSTASTIC ACHIEVEMENT

The air becomes thinner and thinner, and every breath is excruciating. As if in a trance, the man carrying a backpack and an ice axe drags himself forward. He has been climbing for two weeks now, leaving several interim camps behind him, and has now reached the final stage. He can already see the summit. Only 30 meters more across the snow-covered ridge, only 20 meters, only three steps, only one step — and then he reaches his goal. Yuval T. (32) is standing on the highest point of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia, 6,962 meters above sea level.

The sun shines in Yuval’s face, and the mountainous expanse of the Chilean and Argentinian Andes lies at his feet. He laughs and hugs his companions. Standing at such an extreme height, the low points of life seem very far away. And yet, at this moment, Yuval remembers one of these low points — the day eight years ago in Israel, his homeland, when he was told by a physician that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

“As I stood on the peak, I thought of how far I had come in coping with MS,” says Yuval. His story tells of two struggles: Yuval’s conquest of the highest mountain in the Americas and his refusal to give in to the disease. After the initial shock of his diagnosis, he literally got back on his feet.    

Active in spite of MS: To the top of the Andes

When Yuval T. (32) from Israel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he didn’t know what his life would be like. Today he runs marathons and climbs the world’s highest peaks.

Searching for new challenges

Yuval T. was 25 years old and serving as an officer in the Israeli army until one Saturday morning in 2007. He can still remember all the details. “One morning when I woke up, I suddenly found it difficult to move my left leg. I tried to go about the day as usual, but that evening I could no longer feel the entire left side of my body. Things were no better the following morning, so I went to see a physician at the hospital.” 

At the clinic Yuval received a thorough examination, but the cause of the paralysis remained unclear. His symptoms slowly disappeared, only to return a few weeks later. He was examined once again, and this time there was a firm diagnosis. “I was sitting with the physician in his office,” Yuval recalls. “He said, ‘You have a disease called relapsing multiple sclerosis.’ At first I did not know what that meant, and I asked him, ‘Okay, when can I go back to my soldiers in the army?’ The doctor said, ‘Never.’”    

Coming to terms with his illness

Today Yuval calls it the worst moment in the course of his illness. Never before had he felt so low. “Suddenly, my six years of military service were over. I have still not completely come to terms with it, but gradually I started to accept the fact that I had to look for new challenges”. 

Yuval T. has got his disease under control medically. His family and then girlfriend (now his wife), Noa, were a great source of strength, especially in the first difficult weeks. He started a new career as a construction engineer. It seemed possible to continue being active, even with MS. But it was difficult for Yuval to actually find new challenges.    

Yuval’s next goal is Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. Yuval’s next goal is Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

Yuval’s next goal is Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America – but he says this climb is still in the distant future.

As I stood on the peak, I thought of how far I had come in coping with MS.

yuval t.

MS patient

“I began to live actively with MS”

Could it be that sometimes leaving a familiar environment helps find a path through the rest of life? For Yuval, the answer was yes. “In Israel, people usually go on a long journey after finishing their military service,” he says. “Because my military service was of course now over, I decided to do just that.” He planned to travel through India and Nepal for four and a half months. 

Of course, he had doubts as to whether he could manage such a strenuous journey. He also wondered what his doctor would say. “He just said, ‘Do it!’” Yuval says. Five months after his last MS relapse, he started out. “The journey taught me to live actively with MS. It was an incredibly important insight for me. Finally, I was able to explore my new limits. There were endless problems. The heat, for one thing — how was I supposed to keep my medicines cool? At times I had to use ice cream that I bought on the street. During cold nights I kept my medicines warm in my sleeping bag. Somehow, I always found a way,” he recalls.

A second life began for Yuval. He started to do endurance training. Today, he runs marathons. In April 2014, he became the father of a daughter. He is active as a public ambassador for MS and advocates for more information campaigns concerning multiple sclerosis. And finally he returned to his old passion: mountain climbing. 

Yuval has learned that despite MS, he can set ambitious goals for himself – and attain them. Yuval has learned that despite MS, he can set ambitious goals for himself – and attain them.

Yuval has learned that despite MS, he can set ambitious goals for himself – and attain them.

At the peak – exhausted but unbroken

Yuval had previously climbed mountains such as Cotopaxi (5,897 meters high) in Ecuador, Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters high) in Africa, and the Mont Blanc (4,810 meters high) in the French Alps. In 2014, he set himself a new goal: climbing Aconcagua, one of the “Seven Summits,” the seven highest mountains on the seven continents, including Antarctica.

Yuval’s journey was a long one: 13,000 kilometers from northern Israel to the foot of this mountain on the other side of the globe and seven years from his MS diagnosis to the highest point in the Andes. The training for the climb was tough and, at times, he had his doubts. But finally he started his climb, struggling with unforeseeable obstacles posed by nature, which can sometimes be cruel: the thin air, breathing difficulties, the cold that crept through the walls of his tent at night. 

The entire expedition lasted two weeks. Yuval needed 14 hours to climb from the last interim camp to the top of the mountain and back. The photo he took at the peak shows a man who is exhausted but unbroken. What he learned from the experience will stay with him for a lifetime: Even if you have MS, you can set goals for yourself and achieve them — even the very highest ones. 

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