An estate agent who survived deadly meningitis but was left with no sense of balance told of his joy yesterday – after scaling one of the world’s highest mountains.
Jamie Curtis, 42, climbed the gruelling 6,000m peak of Mount Kilamanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, as part of a team of 27 people last September.
Just three years ago, he was fighting for his life after contracting the killer meningitis and being rushed ot hospital on Christmas day.
Now fully back to health, Jamie, branch manager of TuckerGardner estate agents in Histon, Cambridge, lost his sense of balance after the meningitis affected his inner ear.
At the time, doctors told Jamie he would never again ride a bike due to the loss of balance – but that did not deter him from scaling the dizzy heights of Kilamanjaro.
Jamie fell ill before Christmas 2006 but after a visit to his GP on December 22 he was diagnosed with flu and told to rest and take painkillers.
But on Christmas Day, bedridden and so ill he could not even call out to his flatmate, Jamie just managed to call 999 before he lost consciousness.
Paramedics rushed Jamie to Addenbrookes Hospital where he was diagnosed with meningitis, an inflammation of the meninges, the membrane around the brain and spinal column.
Jamie, from Withersfield, near Haverhill, Cambs., battled for his life for four days in intensive care on intravenous antibiotics and oxygen.
After a week he was out of danger but he lost two stones during his month-long stay in Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
As he recovered, doctors were alarmed to see Jamie was continually bumping into things – and diagnosed him with a damaged inner ear which had stripped him of his balance.
But despite the condition, which is worse in dim light, and can lead to poor co-ordination causing him to trip up, he was determined to climb the peak for charity.
Jamie managed his five-day ascent of the treacherous peak with the assistance of a guide who held his arm to help him right himself when he lost his footing.
He said: ”On the final day we were walking through the early hours of the morning, so we could reach the summit for sunrise.
”When I can see, my balance is alright. Stupidly, I told myself there would be enough natural light for me to see where I was going.
”In fact, it was really dark. I kept stumbling – it was a struggle for me to walk in a straight line, to be honest.
”A guide let me hold his arm so I could hold myself upright but we had to stop every couple of minutes. It was tough going.
”I was also exhausted and oxygen levels were pretty low, so it’s fair to say it was a challenge.
“When I got to the top it was overwhelming, I actually cried. It made me realise that, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything – anything is possible.”
Jamie completed the sponsored climb – 5,985m above sea level – in aid of the World Society for the Protection of Animals after spotting an advert in the Sunday Times.
He embarked on a rigorous training regime for the climb, hiking five or six miles every night after work with a rucksack full of books.
Jamie now hopes to follow his mountain adventure with further challenges and is planning a half-marathon, a walk along the Great Wall of China and a sponsored bike ride.
He added: ”When you go through an illness like that, it does change the way you look at things.
”I knew I was lucky to have survived and, unlike many meningitis survivors, lucky not to have lost a limb or something like that.
”I knew I was lucky to be alive – and I wanted to make the most of it.”