This family beat medical odds to climb the highest mountain in Africa. They set a record.
Sarah Getter rouses her kids out of bed and gets them ready for school every single morning. But on this day, she woke them up at 11 o’clock at night.
There was no school that day, and they were in a tent in Africa, getting ready to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The final night of their hike had to be done at night because humans should only be at the summit for 20 minutes or risk altitude sickness. Plus, the best time to see the view from the top is at sunrise.
So, on one cold, dark night in 2015, the Getter family — Sarah, her husband, Bobby, and their kids, Roxy and Ben — all rolled out of their tents and prepped themselves for the final hike to the top.
All images via Sarah Getter, used with permission.
“It’s kind of terrible, that whole last night,” Sarah laughs. “It’s so cold and dark, and you just feel like you’re never gonna make it."
But a few hours later, the Getters did indeed reach the top — making Roxy, who was 9 at the time, the youngest girl ever to complete the climb.
Also impressive? Roxy and Ben were both born with heart issues that could make it really easy to turn down this sort of challenge. But they didn't let that hold them back all.
“It was incredible. We were so proud of them,” Sarah says, of Roxy and Ben, who was 10. “For my husband and I ... it was very emotional.”
For most families, even a trip to Disney World with the kids can feel like a barely accomplishable feat of superhuman strength. But for the Getters, bringing the kids to the fourth highest mountaintop on Earth was surprisingly manageable.
“They really did it for themselves,” she says. “We didn’t push them. They didn’t whine or complain. They wanted to do it. And that was really neat, to see your kids accomplish something like that.”
“We didn’t go into it saying ‘We’re all gonna make it to the top’,” Sarah says. “We went into it saying, ‘We’re gonna be safe and do the best we can, and if we make it to the top, that’s amazing.’" And that's exactly what they did.
Of course, safety was an especially important concern for the Getters because their kids' heart conditions already require frequent check-ups.
Roxy was born with an atrial septal defect, a small hole in her heart that had to be closed by a surgeon when she was a baby. Ben has a less serious, much more common condition called a patent foramen ovale — also a heart hole, but a smaller one that just requires monitoring.
Along with the regular packing and planning, Sarah had to make sure she got her kids the preventive check-ups they needed to make the hike safe for them.
“I would never have taken the trip without getting confirmation from the doctor,” she says. “We like to be adventurous, but in a safe way.”
All adults should see a doctor at least once a year to ensure a healthy heart and overall wellness. But Ben and Roxy have been seeing a cardiologist since they were babies because it’s super important that the family keeps an eye on the kids’ heart health so they can catch any issues early.
“But we knew this was something completely different than we’d ever done," Sarah says. "I just really wanted to make sure that we were making the right decision, and we wouldn’t be putting them in harm’s way.”
"We made sure we took every precaution that we could," says Sarah. Her husband is a physician, and they traveled with another doctor. They also picked a trekking company they trusted, packed every possible medication, and came prepared to get the kids off the mountain if they had needed to.
In the end, it all turned out fine — neither of the kids got “even one ounce” of altitude sickness.
The only Getter who did get sick was Sarah. "Day 3, I was just extremely nauseous and not feeling very good at all," she laughs. The kids, on the other hand, were right as rain.
Still, the family's cautiousness was what kept the kids safe — and gave Sarah peace of mind.
So what's next for a family who's already summited Kilimanjaro?
"You know what, we don't have anything so adventurous planned yet," says Sarah. But Roxy and Ben continue to be adventurers, taking on gymnastics, soccer, horseback riding, hiking, surfing, and more.
"The kids — they're not afraid of things," Sarah says. And thanks to their parents' steady commitment to getting their health checked, they have no reason to be.
Roxy and Ben are free to be adventurers, and their parents are free to come along for the ride. "We try a lot of different things. And it's always a lot of fun."
Though the Getters have a special reason to be strict about getting their heart health checked, everyone should do the same when it comes to knowing their four health numbers — blood sugar, cholesterol, Body Mass Index (BMI) and blood pressure — and schedule regular preventive check-ups with your doctor, even if you don't think you have pre-existing health issues.
As Sarah can attest, it's always better to be prepared before an emergency arises (whether or not it happens on the top of a mountain).
Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.