x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dubai charity fundraiser feared she would die on Mount Everest

Maria Conceicao says a rash decision almost left her without enough oxygen to descend the mountain.

Maria Conceicao set out to conquer Mount Everest and raise money for the slum children of Bangladesh, but when she reached the top, she realised that she had used too much oxygen and may not have enough for the climb down. Pawan Singh / The National
Maria Conceicao set out to conquer Mount Everest and raise money for the slum children of Bangladesh, but when she reached the top, she realised that she had used too much oxygen and may not have enough for the climb down. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // A charity fundraiser has told how she feared she would die on Everest because she did not have enough oxygen left to climb down from the summit.

Maria Conceicao set out to scale the world's highest peak to raise cash for the Maria Cristina Foundation, a Dubai-based group she set up to help children and parents from the slums of Bangladesh.

However her judgement become impaired as she approached the final section of the ascent because of the effects of high altitude. Her guide told her she was climbing too slowly and would not reach the top within the safe window, and urged her to turn back.

She became angry and, without the guide noticing, turned up her oxygen supply. This gave her a burst of energy and she headed off towards the summit, leaving the guide far behind.

"I thought the problem was with the oxygen bottle, that I was getting too little oxygen," she said. "So I did something you should never do, I increased the oxygen. I was at 8,400 metres and I was not in my right frame of mind."

She reached the south summit - but there was none of the jubilation she had expected as the realisation that she had used up too much oxygen sank in.

"It was only when I got to the top that I thought, what a foolish thing to do. If you use more oxygen that means you'll run out as you come down. My guide was nowhere to be seen.

"I thought, I came here to raise money for these kids, and that foolish thing I had done was going to cost me dearly."

Fortunately, after 45 minutes her guide turned up and gave her a spare oxygen bottle.

"I just felt relief - relief that I didn't mess up and let down the children, my sponsors and my family."

Ms Conceicao, 36, from Portugal, has lived in the UAE for 10 years, and she raised the flag of her adopted country when she reached the summit last month.

"It's thanks to this country and the generosity of the UAE-based people that I have been able to do what I do," she said.

She starting helping poor children from Bangladesh eight years ago while working as an Emirates flight attendant. She saw the slums of Dhaka, the capital, during a stopover.

She set up a school there that educated 600 youngsters, and her charity now brings children to Dubai to obtain an education. She also brings over fathers from the slums and helps them to find jobs.

Her experiences on Everest have not deterred her from taking on gruelling challenges to support the foundation. In November she plans to complete seven marathons on seven continents on seven consecutive days with three other women from Dubai.

Nevertheless she has some words of advice for anyone tempted to follow her up Everest: "If it's your dream, do it. If you're a masochist and like Fifty Shades of Grey, do it. Otherwise don't do it."

 

csimpson@thenational.ae