Meet WEMski speaker Prof. Chris Imray – Vascular Surgeon and world-renowned expert on frostbite and cold injuries
Chris is a Consultant Vascular and Renal Transplant Surgeon at UHCW NHS Trust and a Professor at Warwick Medical School, Coventry University and Exeter University and a member of the WEMSki Faculty. He has a Diploma in Mountain Medicine and is a world-renowned expert on frostbite and cold injuries; as well as having medical interests in extreme altitude physiology and the brain at high altitude. Chris is the perfect medic to bring to WEMski, as he’ll be sharing his own personal experiences of climbing (including a summit of Everest) in addition to imparting his vast knowledge of high altitude medicine and cold injuries including how best to treat them.
Chris started climbing whilst at school, and has continued to travel all over the world to indulge this passion; climbing as far afield as the sea cliffs of Cornwall to the volcanoes of Chile. He began working with the Birmingham Medical Research Expeditionary Society in the late 1980s, which is where his interest in altitude research became a passion. Chris now continues his research with the Caudwell Xtreme Everest Research Group and more recently has become involved with the UCL team at The Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE).
Having been one of the medical officers taking part in the 2006 Xtreme Cho Oyu expedition to Tibet, Chris went on to be the Deputy Climbing Leader of the 2007 Caudwell Xtreme Everest Expedition. He summited both Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world (8201m) and Everest (8848m), and has the dubious distinction of having the second lowest arterial gases ever recorded in an adult (at 8400m)! This was the first ever measurement of the level of oxygen in human blood at 8400m, on the balcony of Everest and was the centrepiece of an extensive and continuing programme of research into hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and human performance at extreme altitude.
Chris has published over 130 peer review papers on various subjects including altitude medicine, cold injury, vascular surgery and renal transplantation, and remains an active mountaineer and altitude researcher. Chris is also a trustee of the Society of Extreme, Expedition & Wilderness Medicine (SEEWM) and a regular speaker at the World Extreme Medicine Conference.
We are delighted to welcome Chris to our WEMski faculty and to give you a little taste of what Chris will be talking about at WEMski, we asked him these three questions…
Q. What skills would you say are vital in an extreme and challenging environment?
A. Preparation for any challenge is crucial, especially when facing such extreme and potentially life-threatening conditions. It’s important to familiarise yourself with the environment beforehand and understand and prepare for the potential hazards and situations you could find yourself in. On a personal skill level, the ability to think outside the box will serve you well and having a good sense of humour will help you and your team mentally survive.
Q. What first interested you in practising extreme medicine and taking on such extreme physical and psychological challenges?
A. Exposure to the mountains of North Wales when I was 15 years old kick-started my interest in climbing and I’ve never looked back since. It was so thrilling for a young schoolboy like myself. I can remember the excitement and even the smell of heather from my first climb on the Milestone Buttress on Tryfan. I just love being in the mountains and now I get to travel to remote and exciting places with like-minded people.
Q. What has been your scariest ‘extreme’ challenge/situation and why?
A. I try not to get too scared – I don’t like it! Climbing Mt Everest as part of the Caudwell Xtreme Everest Expedition, where we were confronted with temperatures down to -40°C, high winds, and critically low oxygen levels was pretty frightening. Frostbite, exhaustion, hypothermia and high-altitude illness (mountain sickness) were ever-present as well as other potentially fatal risks. We were also involved in a high-profile rescue of a Nepalese climber, which reminded us just how dangerous our challenge was. The aim of the expedition was to investigate the adaptation of the human body as it acclimatises to extreme altitude, using the shortage of oxygen as a model for patients in intensive care units. Arterial blood gases at 8400m sounds scary, but we had prepared for that moment over two years, so in fact, it was no more challenging than we had expected.