A local couple are trekking 600 miles across the Pyrenees mountains in aid of Kidney Research UK. From 4th July, Ali Reid Wolfe and Emma Thomas aim to hike from the south-west coast of France in Hendaye, crossing France, Andorra and Spain to reach Banyuls-sur-Mer on the east coast. The pair were inspired to take on the charity challenge by Ali’s brother, Seb, who suffered kidney failure as a teenager.
Ali and Emma plan to take the Haute Route – the highest and most challenging route – across the Pyrenees mountain range. The 2-month journey will involve crossing thousands of mountains, but the pair have also chosen to take on the 10 classic summits along the way. They will be camping each night with no cleaning facilities, carrying everything they need to survive on their backs.
Tackling over 50,000 metres of elevation gain and loss, with temperatures ranging from 40 to -15 degrees Celsius in an area famous for its thunderstorms, it is going to be a gruelling journey.
The couple say, "We always knew we wanted to fundraise for Kidney Research, both for Seb and the 3 million others in the UK and many more beyond living with chronic kidney conditions. Considering the number of people suffering from kidney disease, there seems to be little awareness or understanding of the condition compared to other equally serious diseases.”
Ali's brother suffered kidney failure as a child and, after several tough months on dialysis, was lucky to receive a kidney transplant. However, the pair stress that others are not so lucky and that, as the average transplant lasts only around 15 years, there is a long way to go to find a permanent cure.
Even after a transplant, something as minor as a cold can leave patients in intensive care. Medication has to be taken with precision; certain foods have to be avoided; opportunities for things like travel are limited as sufferers can never come into contact with disease or be far from quality healthcare.
Living in Exeter whilst Emma studied at the University of Exeter, the couple were further spurred to fundraise for Kidney Research UK after Emma volunteered briefly at the RD&E Heavitree haemodialysis ward. During this time, she met several patients who were going through kidney failure, and was inspired by their resilience in the face of dealing with often-painful treatments for an incredibly restrictive disease.
Ali and Emma also hope to raise awareness for these local renal units in their fundraising. The work of Exeter RD&E’s kidney wards and Bristol Children’s Hospital saved Seb's life, and continue to treat countless others in the South West. These facilities are invaluable for local people suffering from the condition, both with treatment and support for patients coping with the impact of kidney disease throughout their lives.
Through their fundraising, Ali and Emma hope to support research into a permanent cure for what is often dubbed a ‘silent killer’, whilst giving back to the organisations that are working so hard to help kidney disease patients and their families. They also hope to encourage people to consider registering as organ donors.
As the trek itself is set to be so intensive, the couple have been training and preparing for several months, hiking, running and even climbing Mount Toubkal in Morocco to ready themselves fo the challenge. They explain their reasons for choosing to cross the Pyrenees to raise money and awareness for this cause, saying:
"As there are so many worthy fundraising causes today, we knew we had to do something extreme to get people's attention. So we chose a challenge that very few people attempt. 600 miles of mountains are also something of a symbol for the experience of life with kidney failure. Kidney disease is a lifelong test of resilience, more than we could ever claim to match on our trek. But a figurative similarity lies in the fact that there is not just one mountain or hurdle to get over, but many, requiring true perseverance."