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Cigna 2017

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.

All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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