- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NAIROBI, Kenya | An American heart-transplant recipient who climbs mountains to demonstrate the power of organ donation has been turned back by frigid weather and loose rocks while attempting to summit Africa’s second-highest peak.

Kelly Perkins, 48, had hoped to climb Mount Kenya’s tallest peak — Batian, at 17,057 feet — but the six-person team Mrs. Perkins was climbing with turned back after passing 16,000 feet.

“The moment we made the group decision to turn back was punctuated with a combination of relief (based on my symptoms — cold and exhaustion) as well as a good dose of disappointment given my vision of standing on the summit of Mt. Kenya,” Ms. Perkins wrote in an e-mail this week.

Mrs. Perkins, of Laguna Beach, Calif., had a heart transplant in 1995, after which she began climbing some of the world’s most famous mountains. She was the first person to climb the Matterhorn, Mount Fuji and Mount Kilimanjaro — Africa’s highest peak — with another person’s heart beating in her chest.

Moving Hearts, a nonprofit Mrs. Perkins founded, is dedicated to raising awareness for organ and blood donation. Mrs. Perkins‘ husband, Craig, who was also on the Mount Kenya expedition, has said that his wife’s climbs show that heart-transplant recipients can lead strong, active lives.

Mrs. Perkins said part of the reason her team didn’t make the Mount Kenya summit last week was because they planned a one-day push to the top instead of a two-day effort. She also said that climate change had transformed their route up from a “once semi-predictable formation into an assortment of loose and unstable stones.”

Mrs. Perkins caught a virus at age 30 that destroyed her heart, and she said she was lucky to get a donor heart in time.

“With this heart comes responsibility. My donor heart could have gone to anyone, and I want to make sure my life was worthy of being saved,” Mrs. Perkins said. “With this in mind, I share my vitality with others in the hopes it will change the perception of organ donation and ‘move’ them to participate.”

Mrs. Perkins said her next outdoor adventure will take place in September in California’s Joshua Tree National Park as part of her organization’s “Hearts in Parks” project.

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