It’s the climb: Blood pressure management propels one man’s reach for the top

Sanjeev Nagrath, mountain climber and patient
Blood pressure management and care from Dr. Levine, an expert in high-altitude physiology, helped Sanjeev Nagrath reach new heights.

New York-based IBM executive Sanjeev Nagrath estimates that in his professional life he’s flown some 3.5 million miles around the planet. But he says that until he started climbing mountains, he had never actually traveled. “Mountain treks are my way of seeing new cultures, visiting remote areas,” says Nagrath, 55, “and it’s a great way to make sure I stay in shape.“

It wasn’t long into Nagrath’s climbing career that he set his sites on the base camp of Mt. Everest. His only barrier was how to handle his blood pressure, especially at extreme altitude.

After years of perfect management, Mr. Nagrath’s blood pressure had skewed out of control, and his physicians in New York were stumped. “They worked for a year or two to try to find a solution, but nothing seemed to do the trick.”

Enter UT Southwestern cardiologist Benjamin Levine, M.D., whose expertise in high-altitude physiology is known worldwide. “It’s not that often that you’d fly halfway across the country to consult with a physician,” Nagrath says, but he adds it was worth the trip: Dr. Levine coordinated a complete heart evaluation, including special testing at the Institute for Exercise Physiology and Environmental Medicine.

Dr. Levine prescribed Nagrath a new medication regime that has successfully kept his blood pressure in check and that allowed him to climb to Everest’s base camp – and even 1,000 feet beyond that, to the Kala Patthar peak. Since Everest, Nagrath has also climbed in the Washington Cascades; in July he plans to return there to summit Mt. Rainier. This month, he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa.

“Every time you climb to extreme altitude, it’s a unique experience,” Nagrath says. “You can never predict how you will react. My personal physician always jokes with me, saying I must be crazy to go into these oxygen-starved environments. Dr. Levine tells me that I can do it for as long as I enjoy it. And I’m grateful that he’s helped me do that.”

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