Patient’s story

A few years ago, when Estella was 15, she accompanied her mother from the coast of California to a mountain resort in Colorado. The resort was at about 9000 feet but the trip from Denver required driving over a mountain peak at 13,000 feet. 

When they arrived in Denver at 5300 feet, Estella and her mother both felt slightly short of breath, but they rented a car and started the drive to the mountains.  As they climbed above Denver, Estella started to feel slight nausea and complained of a headache.  When they reached the peak of 13,000 feet, she started to cough and became very pale:  “I felt really sick and wasn’t able to catch my breath.  I felt like something was choking me.”  She felt a little better as they descended down to 9000 feet.  They both spent an uncomfortable evening and became short of breath while walking around. Estella still coughed occasionally.  

The next morning, Estella was well enough to go white water rafting while her mother attended a conference.  The rafting was below 9000 feet, and Estella felt better.  The third day, however, she went horseback riding up in the mountains, and she began coughing again, had a headache, and felt short of breath.  On her return down the mountain, her mother took her to the emergency room of the local hospital where she was given medications, observed for a couple of hours, and sent home with an inhaler (albuterol). 

By the fourth day, Estella was feeling better and convinced her mother to sign both of them up for a horse and buggy ride up the mountain to have dinner at a rustic lodge.  Unfortunately, about 20 minutes into the ride, Estella started coughing and choking, feeling more and more short of breath.  By the time they reached the lodge, Estella felt too ill to eat, and a truck took them back down the mountain to the 9000 elevation, where the symptoms subsided to some degree.

On the fifth morning Estella was feeling fairly well, they packed their bags to head back to the airport at Denver. Unfortunately, they still had to drive back over the 13,000 foot peak:  “I really thought I was going to die.  I started choking and coughing, and felt like I was going to pass out. My head hurt, and I felt like throwing up. My mom said I was white as a sheet.  She drove about 100 miles an hour over that mountain!” As they descended from the peak to a lower level, Estella’s choking and coughing stopped, but she didn’t really feel well until she arrived back at sea level.  Since then, Estella has gone skiing in the mountains, but has been careful not to go to very high elevations.

Instant feedback

Estella suffered symptoms of AMS while vacationing in the mountains of Colorado.


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