Evvie Heilbrunn is no shrinking violet. Four days a week the two-time breast cancer survivor hikes at least two hours or works out on a treadmill or elliptical machine. She sweats it out with a personal trainer another two days. And did I mention that she has Parkinson’s Disease and will climb Mount Everest this fall?
Heilbrunn, 57, of Great Falls, Va., will travel to Nepal in October with other Parkinson’s patients from the Scripps Clinic and Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. The group of eight will head to Everest’s base camp at 17,600 feet and then climb to a peak called Kala Pattar. They aim to raise money for Summit 4 Stem Cell, a nonprofit that supports non-embryonic stem cell research, which could help in treating Parkinson’s, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. So far, there is no cure for it.
Besides raising money for a great cause, why would the wife and mother of four want to do something that would challenge even the healthiest person? “I want to push beyond my limitations,” says Heilbrunn, a former emergency room nurse turned patent trial lawyer who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 53, nine years after her first cancer diagnosis. “Taking a risk used to scare me.”
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Scaling the legendary mountain has long been on Heilbrunn’s bucket list, along with being a spectator at a Tour de France, a Super Bowl and Game 7 of a World Series. “I’m a big sports freak,” she says.
The Everest feat would have been unfathomable a year and a half ago, when chemotherapy during her second cancer battle cut her weight to just 90 pounds. She has rebounded, but Parkinson’s presents its own challenges. Though medication helps to control tremors, she still suffers short-term memory loss.
Despite all that — and a recent broken wrist — Heilbrunn remains upbeat and focused as she continues training for her big trip. “I want to prove to myself that I can do it.”
You can follow Heilbrunn’s exploits on her blog.
Photo: Rick Whipple