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Travel insurance saves dream Kilimanjaro climb from disaster

05 December 2019 Old Mutual Insure

When Land Bank employee Farika Sukhdeo was invited by the Imbumbu Foundation which, for Woman’s Day, was partnering with the Care for Girls campaign on a Trek for Mandela hike to the summit of Kilamanjaro, it was a dream come true.

“Kili had always been on my bucket list,” said Farika.

The fact that the group would be summitting on woman’s day, 9 August, and that this would help provide sanitary pads to economically excluded South African women as part of Care for Girls’ Send-a-Girl-Child-To-School campaign, “only made this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity more meaningful,” said Farika.

Despite not being an experienced hiker, Sukhdeo and her party had a tough but successful climb on the 8 August, leaving their overnight camp early on the morning of 9 August, summitting at approximately 9.30 am.

“It really was an incredible experience and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and togetherness to stand in the bright clear light at the top of Africa’s most iconic mountain,” said Farika. Despite the exhilaration, however, as Farika’s party started their descent she began feeling terrible – ill and exhausted – constantly stopping and resting, even though her guide had taken her backpack.

Recognising the symptoms of altitude sickness, her very professional guide quickly conveyed Farika to the lower altitude Kibo Hut, hoping that the symptoms would abate. Despite resting and, in fact, falling asleep at this hut, Farik’s lungs continued to fill with water, prompting her guide to arrange for the ‘Kili ambulance’ - a stretcher supported on a single wheel managed by four guides. The very weak and drowsy Farika was loaded on the Kili Ambulance and efficiently descended to the Harombu Marangu hut by 2.30 pm in the afternoon.

Despite resting, this time for a few hours, when the rest of Farika’s climbing party arrived at the much lower Harombu Marangu hut at 5.30 pm a doctor in the group could still hear water in her lungs. The doctor also recognized that her blood-oxygen levels were dangerously low.

It was now urgent that Farika get to hospital.

This was also when Farika’s travel insurance became critical. The Imbumbu Foundation had, fortunately, purchased travel insurance for all the members of the climbing group. Farika had also, wisely as it turned out, taken the trouble to record this documentation on her mobile phone.

While the guides were able to get Farika from the Harombu Marangu hut to the gate of the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park in a park vehicle mostly in the dark, from the park gate a private ambulance was needed to get Farika to the nearest, private, hospital at Moshi, the closest town. On the strength of the travel insurance documentation on her phone, the park guides were able to arrange a private ambulance – at 11.30 pm. The ambulance took her directly to the St. Joseph Christian Hospital where she was admitted at 12.30 am without question or payment.

At St. Joseph’s Farika was successfully treated for High Altitude Pulmonary Edemia (HAPE), a variety of altitude sickness. She also had hyperthermia.

Well rested, re-hydrated, and feeling much better, Farika was discharged at 11 am the next morning. In fine spirits she was able to rejoin her climbing comrades who had by now also descended. All were eagerly awaiting her arrival in a nearby hotel preparing for their trip home to South Africa.

“The big learning here for me was that the Imbumbu Foundaton had done the right thing in purchasing travel cover for the group,” said Farika. Farika was equally lucky to have checked that the group did indeed have cover, and then copy this documentation onto her phone. Being able to show this documentation to relevant parties at critical times made sure that, “I was conveyed to the correct medical establishment as effortlessly, efficiently and painlessly as possible, and that I received the highest quality treatment – all without cash at the time,” said Farika.

On her return to South Africa Old Mutual settled all her bills and other claim administration details, effortlessly, in under two weeks.

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