Whalley family in Everest expedition for medical research

EXCITING EXPEDITION: (L-R) Tim, Sarah, Bea, Joe, Connie and Sarah Clarke. (photo courtesy of The London Clinic)
EXCITING EXPEDITION: (L-R) Tim, Sarah, Bea, Joe, Connie and Sarah Clarke. (photo courtesy of The London Clinic)

Three Whalley siblings aim to further medical research when they become three of only 14 children from the UK to take part in a three-week Everest expedition.

Joe (11), Bea (9) and Connie (8) Clarke, who attend Barrow Primary School, will embark on the 10-day trek at the end of March, becoming research subjects in a study of 200 people looking at the human ability to adapt to low levels of oxygen at high altitude. It is hoped the research will help to develop treatments that will benefit critically ill patients in intensive care.

The children’s parents, Sarah and Tim Clarke, are consultants in anaesthesia and intensive care and Sarah explained why the research is vital and a cause close to their hearts: “One in five of us will end up in intensive care at some point in our lives and of those, up to 40% will die. Despite it being one of the most sophisticated areas of hospital care, there is still a limited understanding as to why some people survive and others don’t. Hypoxia, caused by low levels of oxygen, is responsible for many of the deaths we see.”

She continued: “Tim and I have been involved in altitude research since we were junior doctors and have published research on the subject. We have taken part in expeditions to Chile, Bolivia and Nepal in the past and even went on an expedition as part of our honeymoon.

“We found out about the Everest expedition and Tim and I agreed it would be a great opportunity, not only to take the children trekking, but for them to take part in the advancement of medical science.”

The research will focus on exposing healthy people to very low levels of oxygen, with the trip’s medical team observing the ways different people respond. The hope is the research will go some way towards reducing the number of deaths in intensive care.

Although the family are funding the trip themselves, in addition, the children have to raise £500 each for the medical charity.

Sarah said: “They are trying to save all their pocket money and do jobs around the house and for neighbours. They are also planning a second hand book and cake sale at school and Joe and Tim have been growing their hair for a sponsored head shave, so they’ll definitely need hats for the trip!”

After undergoing tests at sea level for comparison with tests on the mountain, the children are excited at the prospect of their adventure. Throughout the trip, they will undergo constant monitoring of their capability to adjust to low levels of oxygen.

Although the main 23-day long expedition takes the adults to Everest base camp, the children’s part of the trek stops at 3,500m and the ascent profile for the youngsters is a very leisurely one.

Sarah commented: “We are a very active family and our children are accustomed to skiing, walking and climbing trips as opposed to beach holidays. We’re all very excited at the prospect of this great family adventure and Tim and I think the only problem will be what they set their sights on next!”