While climbing to the peak of the highest mountain in Africa, Madonsela suffered from what was believed to be a glucose deficiency condition that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough of an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase.
Speaking to Independent Media on her way back home yesterday, Madonsela said the condition was the worst challenge she ever thought she would face. “Everything was going well. I was certain that I prepared for the whole thing until the final push when we were going to the summit (Thursday night).
“I experienced glucose shortage which at that time I didn’t know what it was. How it presented itself my leg muscles just refused to function. The whole body became a bit wobbly and at some stage I was virtually blind. This presented difficulties to the leaders as they were not sure whether to proceed with the climb or go back,” said Madonsela.
She said expedition leader Sibusiso Vilane came to her rescue and was able to diagnose and manage the condition.
“Mr Vilane knew what to do after the diagnosis. He found that the condition was caused by a lack of sugar in my body. We then had to find as much sugar as we could to deal with the condition and I was able to continue with the climb,” Madonsela said.
She was in the second expedition of the Trek4Mandela campaign which left the country on August 4. The team consisted of 23 climbers of which one could only make it as far as summiting Stella Point, about a kilometre to the ultimate Uhuru Peak. Another had to descend before reaching the first peak, Gilman peak.
Singing and ululation from family and friends of the climbers echoed through the corridors of OR Tambo International Airport yesterday as the victorious team emerged.
Despite the challenges, Madonsela described the expedition as an exhilarating experience and said she was going back next year. She said she was assisted to summit and didn’t see much of the “landscape, terrain and beauty” of Kilimanjaro and hoped to see all these when she returns.
Vilane, a South African mountaineer who has led the expedition since its inception in 2012, said his experience with Madonsela had showed him he could now guide blind people. “I had to be the voice to help her get up the mountain. I gave her instructions and she followed what I was saying to her. She responded quite well,” said Vilane.
When he found Madonsela, she was physically weak and had lost a lot of energy. “It’s a good thing I’m always prepared. I had a lot of sweet stuff in my bag. I fed her some of the sweets and supplements and within five minutes she was able to walk again,” Vilane said.
Ibumba Foundation chief executive Richard Mabaso which is in partnership with the Trek4Mandela said: When an incident like that happens you get scared, but then again rely on the capacity and training of the people guiding us.”