Saskatchewan

Saskatoon woman with cystic fibrosis conquers heights to see Machu Picchu

Corinne McKay says she'd always wanted to see Machu Picchu, and while the 57-year-old has cystic fibrosis, she said she figured she was healthy enough to do the trek now. So she did.

Corinne McKay was part of a group that raised $400K in the fight against cystic fibrosis

Saskatoon's Corinne McKay was the only person with cystic fibrosis to tackle a challenging and arduous trek to see Machu Picchu. (Submitted by Corinne McKay)

Corinne McKay found herself overwhelmed and in tears as she stood surrounded by the immense peaks of the Andes and the splendour of Machu Picchu.

The Saskatoon woman had faced more than just a fear of heights. She had taken on the high altitude with lungs weakened by cystic fibrosis and conquered the climb. 

"When you get to that point and you realize that there is no more uphill, in ways, it breaks your heart. And in other ways, it just opens your heart," said the 57-year-old.

"So I cried a lot when I got to the top."

McKay has had multiple health issues for years, including diabetes and kidney, digestive and lung problems. And though she was born with cystic fibrosis, it went undiagnosed until just three years ago, when she was 54.

The diagnosis helped connect her to the right therapies so she was finally able to breathe easier.

"At some point, it's going to catch up with me. But at this point, I'm healthy enough to do this trek to Machu Picchu," she told CBC Saskatchewan's Afternoon Edition, before setting off on the trip May 26. 

The mountains of the Andes were immense and humbling for Corinne McKay. (Submitted by Corinne McKay)

One of the big challenges was the altitude, which saw participants start their mostly uphill trek at 3,000 metres above sea level, rising to 4,300 metres.

While some made use of the oxygen tank and mask available to the group, that wasn't an option for McKay, who would increase her risk of getting sick by sharing the equipment.

"My lungs took a beating," she said. "But you know what, it could have been a lot worse. I made it and I didn't have to be carried out in a stretcher. So it's good."

A group travelling with Cystic Fibrosis Canada to Peru raised roughly $400,000 as part of the fundraising journey. (Submitted by Corinne McKay)

McKay was the only person with cystic fibrosis who made the trek. But she said she met others whose hearts were broken every day by the disease: There was a couple with three children with CF, and a woman whose son-in-law had died as a result of CF.

Together as a group, they raised $400,000 for The Walk to Make Cystic Fibrosis History.

"So those people are my heroes because they're the ones who are raising the money to keep the 4,200 people in Canada like me alive," said McKay.

Now that she's done it, she's hard-pressed to say whether she would face those fears again — the fear of being so high or having to be carried down on a stretcher. But she now knows she's capable of meeting the challenge.

"Never say never."

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