What Climbing Back Pain? A Story of Heroism and Courage in Nepal

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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climbing back pain

Chris Warner is an inspirational speaker and expert mountain climber who can tell us a thing or two about climbing back pain and how he never lets it slow him down. Chris was recently seen by our Colorado clinic before a big Nepal trek. Suffice it to say that his e-mail about the results of his low back and hip treatment is one of the most gripping stories that I have heard in ten years of using PRP and stem cells to help patients.

Chris has been a patient of our Colorado clinic these past several years and was seen by Dr. Schultz in January of this year. Like many patients diagnosed and treated with a hip labrum tear, his 2011 surgery for impingement was less than 100% successful because his hip pain was also coming from his SI joint and irritated low back nerves. This spring, before climbing season began, he was seen by Dr. Schultz for the Regenexx-PL Disc procedure and treatment of his SI joint and hip. From this point on, it’s better to let him tell the story, as I would never do it justice (I redacted some of the more graphic parts):

“Nothing but great reports about the hip/SI joint, etc. I am amazed at how well the April shots worked out. I haven’t felt better in years, despite the crazy stresses I put on the joints while in Nepal.

I had one episode in which I thought I had re-destroyed all your good work. Rumor hit us that a French climber was being aided off the peak with Cerebral Edema. Two of us jumped into action, carrying supplies up the mountain to build him a stretcher. Minutes before he got to us he stopped assisting in his own rescue and slid into unconsciousness. We built a “stretcher” out of a tent, sleeping bag, pads and ropes, then started the terrible, cold, night time descent with the unconscious body. He was breathing at camp 2, but we had no sign of life by Camp 1. Still hours above base camp, we hauled, dragged…him… It was physically and  emotionally brutal. At one point, (carrying) him across a super steep slope, with a gaping crevasse at our feet, I could feel my back twisting as I pushed and pulled him. I had an awkward load on my back making things worse: oxygen tanks which we hoped would make him better, but now were useless. My heart was pounding from the immediate and accumulated physical strain. I thought for certain my body would fail, if not in the moment, in the coming days.

Late that night…I declared him dead. My biggest concern became the safety of the rescuers. At that point, we were going to have to carry him…across a dangerous talus field, down a roped cliff and more than a mile to base camp, all in the dark in sub freezing temps. Broken legs and torn ligaments were likely…We were physically destroyed…

On the walk down, I realized I still had the oxygen bottles in my pack. My lower back was killing me. I wondered if my trip was over.

I woke the next morning  to minor soreness. By lunch I felt dehydrated and exhausted but was pain free.

A few weeks later we made our summit push. I was cranking: until 7600 meters. During the rescue, the intense inhaling and exhaling of freezing air had scarred the back of my throat and caused an upper respiratory infection. This caught up with me as I crawled from the tent for the summit. I felt claustrophobic and soon realized that I was suffering from pulmonary edema. It was time to rescue myself, instead of becoming a statistic. No need to risk the lives of others. The descent, through the night, was long and brutal, but safe.

It all sounds epic, but really that is climbing in the Himalaya.

I am now home, taking a week to “recover”. I have a 70 mile mountain bike rae in late July, then the Leadville 100  mountain bike race in early August. Luckily my spine and hips feel great. I suspect that my lungs will be fine as well.

 Thanks for “squeezing me in” in April. I am doing my best to get the most from those shots.”

I was struck by Chris’ story for how in the most horrible of times, even when the rescue can’t save someone’s life, the resulting story is important to tell as for many of us, this is the only window we’ll get into this unforgiving world of elite mountain climbing. We’re glad we could help Chris and keep him going so that he himself could make it off that peak.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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