Danbury doctor to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Ugandan hospital

February 4, 2018 GMT

DANBURY — Dr. Majid Sadigh has thrice climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

The first time was to earn forgiveness from his late father, the second to learn humility and the third to accompany his son and build relationships for his ongoing attempt to create a health center at the base of the mountain.

But a greater purpose will power him on his upcoming fourth climb.

Sadigh, 69, aims to raise money for a microbiology lab at the St. Francis Naggalama Hospital in Uganda, one of the many places he partners with around the world through his Global Health Program.

“This time I have a bigger motivation,” he said. “My heart has been touched by the poor people of Naggalama.”

Sadigh is the director of global health and the Christian J. Trefz Family Endowed Chair in Global Health at the Western Connecticut Health Network. The Global Health Program sends medical students to provide care in countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republican, Russia and Vietnam.

He hopes to raise $19,341 — one dollar for each foot of the climb — to cover the cost of the lab. He had raised nearly $8,000 by Sunday morning and said he is confident he can raise the rest. Community members can donate on the Western Connecticut Health Network’s website.

Sadigh said the Naggalama hospital is recognized as one of the best in Uganda, but has limited resources to serve some of the most marginalized people in the world. This lab will be critical to diagnosing tropical diseases, such as malaria.

“It’s going to keep some of the people, kids and adults, alive,” he said. “They are going to have so much benefit from having a microbiology lab. This is a life-saving intervention for that tiny hospital.”

Sadigh also hopes his climb will spread the Global Health Program message that humans are genetically related, regardless of skin color or religion, and deserve the same rights to health care.

“We are cousins and nephews and nieces,” he said. “We have to have access to similar health. It doesn’t matter if you are a mother giving birth in Naggalama, you should have the same access that a woman in Switzerland is going to have.”

Sadigh’s trek on Africa’s tallest mountain will begin Friday and take about a week, depending on the weather. If it rains, as it did on his last trip, he will only be able to climb for three to four hours a day, instead of the average six to eight hours. Several guides will accompany him on the Northern Circuit — a route that is easier than the intense Mawenzi trail — to the Uhuru Summit.

He has trained by doing aerobics, as well as climbing 165 miles on Connecticut mountains over the last 40 days. He has previously climbed Mount Elgon in Uganda and Mount Kenya.

On the first day of the climb, Sadigh said he will hike through a “beautiful” rain forest, with monkeys, birds and elephants. He will move onto a “lifeless” landscape, with temperatures dropping the higher he climbs. Some days he will hike as many as 12 to 13 miles.

He said seeing the mountain’s wildlife and volcanoes reminds him that humans are “nothing” in comparison to the rest of the world.

“For someone who is oriented to biology, science, Kilimanjaro is Holy Land,” he said. “You go to celebrate life, diversity and then understand what we have and how much we need to be careful about resources.”

Previous trips have restored his dedication to those in need.

“It makes you so humble,” Sadigh said. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to spend the rest of my life at the service of the poor people.’ ”

Sadigh described the final stretch of the climb to the Uhuru Summit as “torturous.”

Hikers climb for seven hours overnight, moving slowly in the cold and wind as oxygen levels drop. They reach the summit at sunrise with burning chests and blue fingers and lips from the lack of oxygen.

But at the top are glaciers and a moon that seems close enough to touch, Sadigh said.

“When you get to the top and you see the dance of the sun rays on this icicle, you forget everything,” he said. “You are lucky. [You are like] a woman who has given birth to a beautiful baby, you totally forget your torture.”

Some theorize hikers hallucinate the incredible site because of the lack of oxygen, Sadigh said. Air pressure at the summit is about 40 percent of that found at sea level, according to a Kilimanjaro guide website.

Sadigh said he read his diary entry from his first trip and could hardly believe the site he described.

“It’s like going to the moon,” he said. “It’s like going to another planet.”

He said half the people who attempt the climb fail. But success or failure has little to do with physical fitness, he said. He has seen an 87-year-old woman reach the top when young people in their mid-20s could not, falling ill with “mountain sickness” from the lack of oxygen.

What pushes climbers to the top is their motivation. And Sadigh said he will endure rain, headaches, chest pain — anything — for his cause.

“For the patients of Naggalama, I will do even more,” he said. “That’s the minimum thing I can do.”