My name is Mark Guido and I am a 28-year-old Waiter from the Greater Chicago Area. I have an ambitious goal of joining the seven summits club, a select group of roughly 400 people worldwide who have climbed the highest mountain peaks on every continent. To date, I have successfully climbed three summits in Africa, South America, and Europe and have helped raise more than $10,000 for youth development around the world.
How does a Waiter from one of the flattest states in the U.S. become a high-altitude Mountaineer? Self-belief and commitment to a dream. I am just a regular guy allowing my adventurous spirit to play out. Three years ago, I traveled to Africa and decided to climb the highest mountain on the continent. This was my first high altitude mountaineering experience and I fell in love with the challenge. From then on, I have fully committed to pushing my physical and mental limits in some of the most dangerous environments.
What Motivates Me?
For some, the thrill of the climb would be motivation enough, but when I stand on top of a mountain, it’s not about me. My climbs invest in children’s futures and that’s what keeps me motivated. On my various climbs, I have realized that the children of the areas I have visited did not have the resources for a decent education. I am the son of a teacher, so I was instantly aware that if something could be done for these kids, it was my responsibility. I was quick to partner with different groups that support the local children and, in doing so, my project has helped the lives of many. Before each climb, I have local children sign a special flag unique to each location that I carry with me to the summit. This is what keeps me motivated. I am no longer climbing for myself, I am climbing with and for all these children to show them that anything is possible!
My mental health challenges
For the most part, I have been able to adequately cope with or repress my cognitive and emotional difficulties for several years. However, the cumulative impact of life stressors over the last several months has given way to emotional distress that has interfered with the effectiveness of my cognitive functioning. In light of this, I was referred for a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, including an assessment of my current cognitive and emotional functioning, to establish, clarify, and differentiate diagnoses, as well as to determine appropriate treatment recommendations. On October 27th, 2020 I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). With new insight into my own personal struggles, I’m hoping to bring this disorder into the light to help reduce the stigma surrounding it and other mental illnesses. Now that I know what I am dealing with, I can reframe my life moving forward with the proper treatment. I am no longer blindly climbing my internal mountain, and I can finally catch a glimpse of that summit sunrise.
My Heart Defect
On December 3rd, 2020, after receiving an echocardiogram to make sure my heart was dialed in for Everest, it was determined that I have a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), a hole in my heart that didn’t close the way it should after birth. A PFO is a small opening between the two upper chambers of the heart, the right, and the left atrium. Normally, a thin membranous wall made up of two connecting flaps separates these chambers. No blood can flow between them. If a PFO exists like in my case, a little blood can flow between the atria through the flaps. This flow is not normal and is called a shunt. A shunt is an abnormal communication between the right and left sides of the heart allowing blood to flow directly from one circulatory system to the other. A right-to-left shunt allows deoxygenated blood to bypass the lungs and return to the body. Factor in the deoxygenated environment like on a mountain and it’s not a good situation.
Without even knowing I had a PFO I have performed quite well the four times I have been up to 20,000-ft, and the one time up to 23,000-ft. My concern to date is how my heart defect might respond at an elevation greater than 23,000-ft and beyond. The condition is most important because it raises the risk of stroke. The risk is even greater at high altitudes, along with High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).
After consulting with a PFO specialist I was given two options; quit climbing or get a procedure done to repair the hole in my heart. Without hesitation, I have opted to move forward with the closure procedure. I know many of you will never understand why climbing Everest is so important to me, or why I would even consider getting a preventive procedure done just to climb some mountain. The thing is, this isn’t just some mountain to me. The dedication to this ultimate goal over the last several years has turned my life around and has given me a sense of purpose. A mountain that can kill you, has ironically saved my life before I have even stepped foot on its slopes. To me, that’s worth the effort of all of this. In the next few weeks, I will first receive a Transesophageal Echocardiogram which is a probe containing an ultrasound transducer at its tip. It will be passed into my esophagus to get a better look at the size of the hole before it is closed up.
Next will be the actual procedure itself. This will be done in early March. The procedure involves a catheter with a closure device which will be inserted through my leg vein up to my heart, where the device is left to close up the flap. Recovery time isn’t too lengthy, but using my doctor’s best judgment along with my own I have decided to pull the plug on an Everest 2021 expedition and instead will be looking forward toward 2022. It is disappointing, to say the least, but it makes the most sense to hold off. I would say it breaks my heart, but my heart is already broken “ha ha ha” (trying to keep it light.)
A fellow climber from Chicago and someone I look up to told me “setbacks are a part of any good adventure.” I couldn’t agree more. Cross out 2021 on those Everest T-Shirts with a permanent marker and let’s roll in 2022! Upward, and forever upward!
Update: On March 8th, 2021 I successfully underwent a PFO closure procedure and I am now recovering at home. The road to Everest starts here.
After recovery, I will resume training to climb Mount Everest via the South Col route in April 2022 to raise money for children at SOS Children’s Village Sanothimi, Nepal.
See you at the top (eventually)!
Peaks for Purpose