Edmonton heart attack survivor heads to Everest year after COVID-19 derailed climb

After COVID-19 stalled his expedition last year and lost him two sponsors, Leo Namen is set to to embark on the journey to raise funds for research into women's health this April.

Leo Namen set to embark on journey to raise funds for research on women's health

Heart attack survivor Leo Namen, shown here on Cascade Mountain in spring 2019, aims to climb Mount Everest, as well as raise $500,000 for two studies on heart disease at the University of Alberta. (Submitted by Leo Namen)

A year ago Edmonton mountaineer Leo Namen was poised to scale the highest mountain in the world in an effort to raise $500,000 for two studies at the University of Alberta into women's health.

Then COVID-19 struck, closing borders around the world. 

Now the 51-year-old is continuing his quest to climb Everest.

"One of the goals is encouraging survivors to educate the public … and advocate for women's research," Namen said. 

According to a 2016 paper from Harvard Medical School,while men get heart attacks at a younger age than women, the survival rates for women are much lower.

Despite heart disease being the leading cause of death in women, only 56 per cent of women are aware of this issue, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

Heart attack was a shock

Namen was training at a gym at West Edmonton Mall with his son in April 2018 when he started to feel discomfort in his chest. 

"Two minutes later I am laying down basically dying on the bench right across from the gym," he recalled. 

The heart attack was a shock as he is a healthy and active individual, Namen said.

"I don't drink. I didn't smoke. I kept a fair diet and I still had a heart attack," he said. 

Doctors told him the blood flow stopped 55 per cent of his heart for about 47 minutes.

Namen was rushed to the Misericordia Community Hospital near the mall but had to be transferred to the Royal Alexandra Hospital to obtain the appropriate procedure. 

"It was a lot of damage to my heart, according to the cardiologist," he said.

Namen said the event changed him as a person causing him to spiral into depression. 

However, a post he read on a Facebook group for heart attack survivors he had joined flipped a switch.

The post was from a woman who wrote about how she had trouble getting to the bathroom and when she couldn't make it, she wet her bed. 

"That was a shocking, shocking image in my head just to think about," he said.

He realized then he had a lot to be thankful for. 

He spent the next few months researching heart disease and in 2019 made the decision to climb the peak. 

After COVID-19 put a dent in those plans and he lost two sponsors.

Namen is getting ready to fly on April 3 to Nepal, where he will quarantine before setting off on the expedition.


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