"Everything is Possible": A Riley kid climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro

January 19, 2018
Topics: Riley Kid Story, Riley Champions

sneha blog image
Sneha Dave at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

I live by the fact that everything is possible unless you make it impossible. 

I still remember feeling completely different the day after my first major surgery, which included the removal of my entire large intestine. Within the next two months, my 60-pound body as a freshman in high school would gain strength. Within the next two years, I would have two more major surgeries and several life-changing procedures at Riley Hospital. Within the next few years, I would climb the first of the seven highest summits in the world. 

On December 25, 2017, I took my final steps to reach the tallest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. As I climbed the last 50 meters, I remembered walking in for my first surgery. I was defeated. I had fought for five gruesome years since I was 6 years old to keep my colon, an irreplaceable organ. When you’re told you have ulcerative colitis at age 6, those words don’t affect you. As I grew older I became aware of my limitations―the ones others put on me and the ones I put on myself. 

The climb was a paradoxical experience because skin nodules from inflammation used to prevent me from walking distances. Low nutrients and medications made me dizzy when all I did was just stand up. On day three on the mountain, I passed out while brushing my teeth, likely from dehydration. As we came down I had joint pains from the years of steroids and nutrient deprivation. 

I could have stopped at any time on the mountain, but that’s not what years of living with ulcerative colitis taught me.  

I didn’t climb Mt. Kilimanjaro because I don’t have a colon. I climbed because ulcerative colitis took away my physical strength for years, but it didn’t take away my will. Overcoming my illness was an immense endurance test that prepared me for this challenge.

I’d still say walking into surgery―a procedure that would quite literally give me new life―was harder than walking the last few hundred meters of Mt. Kilimanjaro known as the “assault.” These last meters are the most challenging part because you have little oxygen and a steep uphill climb. You have to be 100% in or the harsh conditions will tell your body to head back. 

I remember my Child Life Specialist at Riley, Amanda Banker, as she walked with me into surgery. While this was incredibly mentally challenging, Amanda made sure I was comfortable and helped me push through the mental obstacles. These experiences with my family of doctors, nurses, Child Life Specialists and volunteers at Riley helped me steer toward the finish line. 

Just like the people and my experiences at Riley, Mt. Kilimanjaro taught me this world is so much bigger than one person or one situation. I have Riley to thank for keeping me not only physically but mentally strong. Their support has meant more than any climb. 

Sneha Dave

Sneha Dave is a sophomore at Indiana University majoring in Journalism and Chronic Illness Advocacy. She has created two nonprofit organizations, the Crohn's and Colitis Young Adults Network and the Health Advocacy Summit. Sneha has spoken at numerous Riley Dance Marathons, leadership and advocacy events, and including a televised appearance on Capitol Hill. She also writes for U.S. News and World Report and has advocated with the United Nations on behalf of the third sustainable development goal, good health and well-being. When she is not advocating, you can find her training for the second of the seven summits, Mt. Elbrus.

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