What a ride – at 9:21 am Dale Shippam stood at the North Pole. Who would
have thought that that would happen!!

But let me go back over the past 60 hours – We had finished up Day 9, a briliant day, but as we came into camp a storm blew in. We had intended to get up the next day and ski but the storm was unbelievable. We stayed in the tent while it blew, shook, rattled and rolled and the ground intermittently trembled.

At our usual 8 pm check in phone call – we heard from Vadim (The Russian organizer of all things Barneo, flights, choppers etc.,) that the weather was bad, closing in and we should conserve fuel. We had 2.5L at that time. Planning an 11 day trip and being told that you may be stuck on the ice for a few more days waiting for the weather to change was really actually very scary. We had a look at the food and fuel and immediately went into conservation mode. Keith and Dirk were all over it, but for me the unknown was a touch terrifying. It made me realize how incredibly small and vulnerable we were in a 6 x 8 foot tent, -20, windchill to nearly – 40, and winds > 25 mph.

Dale, reminded both Michel and I that this is what it feels like day in, day out, for someone waiting for a transplant. No control over events, vulnerable, waiting – it put a whole new perspective on things. My admiration and respect for transplant recipients and those waiting continues to grow. What we experienced was only a small fraction of what they go through day in, day out while they wait – I really can’t imagine it.

Day 10 we used no fuel during the day, tucked in, staying warm. Used minimal fuel in the evening.

Day 11 no flights, so again minimal fuel – sorting out food so we could ration what would be required if we had to hunker down for longer. Finding out that the runway at Borneo had cracked and developed a huge lead of open water…..Many calls over the course of Day 11, every 2 hours are we going – Vadim – no weather closing in; 8 am, 10 am, 12, 2 pm, 8pm, and finally 10 pm – no flights. Bad night sleep last night again wondering, worrying, waiting – at 8 am we got the call the chopper was coming for us. It took us the remaining way to The North Pole and at 921 Dale became the first heart transplant recipient to our knowledge to stand at TNP. What a feeling – impossible to describe!!!!

Ultimately we had done a Polar Century – 100 miles of skiing, over ice, snow drifts, across open water, through gale force winds, freezing temperatures and ended up within 12 miles of the Pole, but for the weather we would have made it on our own steam, nonetheless, I believe it was a stunning accomplishment for Dale. Especially after Keith said it is the worst weather he has ever seen on a Polar ski!

We then flew back to Barneo and immediately on to the Antonov 74 plane to fly back to Longyearbyen.

The team was extraordinary. Imagine spending 60 hours in a 6×8 foot space with 5 people and keeping your sense of humor and in fact actually enjoying yourself (apart from intermittent panic about departure). Keith is a cross between Grizzly Adams and a Polar Bear – setting the pace, keeping the focus, finding the path. Dirk was the sweeper – steadfast, solid with a brilliant sense of humor and pulling up the rear, picking us up, pushing our sleds through tight spaces. Dale as always never ceases to amaze me with what he is capable of. 11 years post transplant, pulling his weight, one step after another pushing the boundaries and representing transplant in the best possible way. Michel – endless energy, bouncing in and out of the tent during our 60 hour downtime, keeping things light and positive.

I must thank a number of people – Mr. Ian Delaney whose ongoing support of the program has allowed us to raise awareness on a global scale through innovative means such as this trip – Thanks Ian – we missed you out there.

The team at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and MultiOrgan Transplant Program for the dedication they show 24/7 to their work that allow the Dale’s of the world to live a full life.

To my patients you motivate me daily! Keep your spirits up and believe.

Nicole, Nona, Bill (UHN), and Kevin (Sherritt) deserve special thanks for allowing the Blog to happen.

Thanks to the Borg family, B. Gosevitz and T. Lasorda for all the help with fundraising.

Special thanks to Linda Goldsack- you rock girl.

Special thanks to TGLN for all of their support and effort to increase organ and tissue donation.

Thanks to Peter at Hofman Motors for the brilliant tire that I pulled throughout the City of Toronto, I can give it back but I am pretty sure you don’t want it!

We are safe in Longyearbyen (wouldn’t you know it that a Volcano would erupt in Iceland and delay us further) – all in all another magical spiritual experience that has left me speechless

Thanks to everyone for following our story!

Heather Ross


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