To the Soaring Heights… With a Pacemaker

Photo: Markéta Hanáková archive
tuesday 24. january 2017, 20:46 - Text: Martin Višňa

The mountains are like a magnet. Markéta Hanáková can vouch for that, not giving up mountain climbing even after having a pacemaker implanted after her heart stopped several times due to a birth defect. She is the first person in the world with a “ticker” to reach the height of 7 219 metres, a record which she tried to beat last year. Experts at the UP Faculty of Physical Culture aided her in her preparations.

Hanáková, who works as a radiology assistant at the Olomouc University Hospital, wanted to reach the new record together with her boyfriend, Zdeněk Hodinář, by climbing Afghanistan’s highest peak, Noshaq – 7 492 metres. The mountain, in the words of the woman climber, had other ideas. “During the acclimatisation and setting up the high camps, we had it pretty good, but during the time of our last attempt at the summit the weather went completely against us. Every day there were storms dumping new snow, it got colder, and the winds increased,” reminisced Hanáková on her August expedition.

But as she says, she and her boyfriend have a clean conscience. They gave it their all on the mountain. And they did not underestimate their preparations, during which for three weeks they did “boot camp” in the Peruvian Andes at heights around five thousand metres. At the Faculty of Physical Culture, under Michal Botek and his colleagues from the Department of Natural Sciences in Kinanthropology, they went through repeated non-stress and hypoxic stress tests at Olomouc’s altitude, simulating heights averaging roughly from four to six thousand metres.

“Thanks to special equipment and oxygen masks, Dr Botek simulated altitudes of 6 200 metres. That part of the research went okay. For the entire period they monitored our blood pressure, the oxygen saturation in our blood, our heartrate. After evaluating the non-stress part we went for a ‘mountain hike’. We were ‘placed’ at 4 500 metres and trekked for an easy few minutes. For the time being we were breathing air typical at those altitudes, so the experts again carefully monitored how our bodies reacted at those heights. What was interesting was that even though we were both operating at the same altitude conditions, each of us was differently acclimatised,” as Hanáková explained the measuring.

The mountain reality however differs significantly from laboratory conditions and good results on paper are not enough. “In the laboratory we were ‘up there’ only during the testing periods. When a person is constantly in the mountains at that height, they perceive it much more intensively, and if the time comes when a person cannot cope with the altitude, there is no button to push – we have to do it ourselves, go lower to where the body can start feeling better,” added Hanáková, who reached her physical depths on Noshaq.

She has not decided to give up on the pastime which she took up after her twenty-fifth birthday, even though before she had never been any kind of athlete or mountain climber. However, she is well aware of certain limitations. “It might seem today that the pacemaker has not changed my life much, but after the operation I thought that that was the end of mountain climbing for me. But we have kept on; we just have to plan a bit differently for all the hikes and activities. I do feel that it is not as easy as it used to be,” adds Markéta Hanáková, who also writes, has photo exhibitions, and shows documentaries about her travels.