James Rutledge has a dream to climb the seven summits, the tallest peaks on each continent which includes Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro. He also has Dextrocardia, a congenital heart disease (CHD) that basically means his heart is backwards. He is almost 38 years old. Despite his condition, he has set a goal and fully intends to reach his peak.
He has already conquered one of those peaks — Mount Elbrus. The highest peak in Europe towering at a staggering 18,510 feet. “Reaching the summit for me was … phenomenal, exhilarating…it made me feel accomplished, happy, sad, grateful, emotional,” James remembers. The hike itself was a grueling task, not to mention all the prep work that goes into it. Months of training, prep hikes days before, gear checks, and lack of sleep due to anticipation.
On summit day James almost had to turn around. His guide thought it best as he was deemed a bit too slow and white as a ghost. But, James knew his body better than anyone and after getting some much needed nutrition he let his guide make the final call. After taking off his head gear to inspect his coloring, his guide said “Let’s do this! I know you can, I believe in you James. Let’s tie in together and climb this mountain!” So, tethered to his guide, James accomplished the first step in his goal to climb the seven tallest peaks in the world.
On the slope James just kept telling himself “step, step, step” as a way to get through the arduous adventure he set out on. “There is nothing more important than the moment in climbing. You can’t think of the summit, you can’t think of after the climb, you must be present with each step.” James relays a great reminder to take this way of thinking off the mountain. To live each moment fully. To not take any second of the life we’re given for granted.
James is not only climbing for himself but for all those with CHD. “I knew that I could use my physical ability, passion, and drive to bring awareness to those severely affected by [CHD] as well,” he said. His goal to climb all seven summits is only matched by his goal to spread CHD awareness.
James is an amazing example of someone living their life to the fullest. He is asymptomatic, meaning he does not show the normal symptoms of CHD. This does not make him any less of a CHD survivor and he realizes just how scary CHD can be. “I have friends that have had several open heart surgeries and know that they may not make it past their 30th or 40th birthday. They struggle every day and have frequent trips to the ER due to complications,” James said. His friends with CHD only add more fuel to his own perseverance and passion for doing big things and bringing more awareness to his condition.
James, the man who conquers mountains, closes with this advice: “Stay in the fight, persevere, and live to know we are all in this fight together. Our legacy is being made this very instance for the next generation of those born with a CHD. We will conquer CHD.”
We all need people to believe in us, and even if we must be tether to make it there, together we can accomplish anything. We also believe that to be true in finding a cure for CHD. With your donations, we can fund the research to grow a heart in 20 years. With the amount you spend on your morning coffee, you can make a monthly donation with long lasting impact. And together, we will find a cure for CHD.