From the Depths of Grief to the Tops of Mountains

Climb for Kids Benefits Twins’ Disease

By Yitka Winn

How did a yoga instructor, a Greenlake café owner, and a documentary team all wind up at the summit of Mount Rainier one August day? The answer is an organization called Climb for Kids, and the story begins with two little girls named Emma and Ella.

Before birth, the girls were diagnosed with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), a generally unknown but often fatal disease that steals nutrients from one twin and gives them to the other.

Their father, Seattle’s Matt Kowalczyk, blogged daily about his family’s ordeal, from his wife Ellen’s prenatal surgeries to the bleary-eyed nights spent in the hospital, learning about the terrible disease affecting their girls.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has gained some media exposure in recent years, but overall, few people are familiar with fetal syndromes. Annually, however, there are more cases in the U.S. than breast cancer, and altogether, fetal syndromes cause over 200 families per day to lose a child.

Heartbreakingly, four and a half months after birth, Emma succumbed to TTTS. In the weeks following her passing, Matt discovered blog entries by strangers all over the world who’d been touched by Emma’s story. In the spirit of solidarity and love that so many expressed during his family’s grief, Matt decided to combine his passion for mountaineering with his desire to spread awareness of fetal syndromes.

Climbing for Kids

In 2007, Climb for Kids was born — a nonprofit dedicated to challenging mountain enthusiasts to scale peaks with professional guidance and raise both awareness and money for organizations supporting fetal syndrome.

“I established Climb for Kids because I felt I had to give back to the community that had given so much to my family,” says Kowalczyk. “I figured the best way to do that was by combining the two things I knew the most about, mountaineering and startups.”

Since then, Climb for Kids has sponsored summits of Mount Rainier, Mt. Hood, Ruth Mountain, and even the majestic Mont Blanc in the Alps.

It is Matt’s hope that the spirit of Emma will continue thriving in the hearts of those standing atop the world’s most stunning peaks. And it is Matt’s goal that each step will contribute to stamping out fetal syndromes.

Did you know?

Kirkland’s Evergreen Hospital and Medical Center is one of only 10 facilities in the United States currently able to provide treatment for TTTS. Its Fetal Therapy Program is dedicated to the diagnosis and management of complicated fetal problems requiring surgical treatment while the fetus is still in the womb.

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