Special to The Chronicle-Journal
In 1999, the Thunder Bay firefighter received a heart transplant and since then, he has been travelling to some of the most extreme places on earth, all in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of organ donations.
On Tuesday night, Shippam shared stories and photos of his expedition in 2006 to climb the 4,892-foot Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and his 2010 skiing expedition to the North Pole. Shippam said he hopes that like his expeditions, presentations like this will start getting people to think about organ donation.
“With these expeditions, we are trying to prove that organ recipients are able to continue with a normal life and get on with their life after the transplant,” he said in an interview.
Shippam also spoke about the new organ donation registry and provided information about how to sign up. He added that organ donation is often a topic that people don’t talk about, but need to be more open about it.
“You really need to talk about it with your family,” he said. “Unfortunately, people have accidents and when these accidents happen, if you want to be an organ donor, it’s important that your family know it.”
The expeditions also raise funds for the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation. The North Pole expedition raised $400,000 while the Antarctic expedition raised $1.4 million.
Shippam said the expeditions were tough, but also rewarding.
During the expedition in Antarctica, the team failed to reach the summit by only 200 metres, but for Shippam it isn’t just about reaching the summit, it’s about challenging himself along the way.
“It’s also about getting to go to places in the world that very few people get to see,” he added. “It’s a terrific adventure.”
In Antarctica, it wasn’t the cold that was a problem, but the altitude. Climbing the highest peak on the continent took its toll on some team members, with the two doctors on the journey becoming ill, including Dr. Heather Ross from Toronto General Hospital.
“I was feeling quite well, but the doctors were ill so we had to rescue them off the mountain,” Shippam recalled.
Skiing to the North Pole offered different challenges, which came in the form of bone-chilling cold. At one point during the trek, the team made camp to shelter themselves from an approaching storm, and they were forced to stay in their tent for more than 50 hours.
Even with all the challenges and adventure, Shippam always returns to the main purpose of the expeditions.
“There’s a byproduct of these trips for people who are awaiting organ transplants,” he explained.
“It’s a scary time. I know when I was waiting it was very nerve-racking because you don’t know what your future holds for you.”
Shippam recalled that when he was awaiting his transplant, no one told him that he could climb a mountain after the procedure. But now that he has, he thinks more people awaiting transplants can be told about these very adventures, giving them the gift of hope.
“I think it makes the wait more to look forward to, knowing that with hard work and good luck, you can receive a heart and continue and go back to work, and raise your family and have children, and everything is back to basically normal,” he said.
“That is the message we are trying to get across.”
Shippam added that he never fails to think of the donor who gave him his heart, particularly during expeditions, which he said is a way of giving thanks.
“Receiving a heart is a very special thing,” he said.
“The heart is a very important organ to humans. We consider our emotions there and to be carrying someone else’s heart is a big thing and you get choked up after 12 years talking about it. You are thinking of this person who sadly lost their life, and the family who were gracious enough and generous enough to donate that organ.”
For more information about Shippam’s journeys and organ donation, visit www.testyourlimits.ca