Second annual Longevity Project ends with well-attended event at Riverwalk Center
BRECKENRIDGE — A near-capacity crowd was in attendance at the Summit Daily News’ Longevity Project event at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge on Wednesday evening. A panel of experts discussed physical and mental health at high elevation, and featured speaker Mike Libecki spoke about his personal experiences as an adventurer climbing in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the planet.
The panel included Dr. Marshall Denkinger, chief medical informatics officer for Centura Health and former chief medical officer at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center; Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos, a family doctor and owner of the Ebert Family Clinic in Frisco; Betsy Casey, program manager for mental health navigation and community building nonprofit Building Hope; and Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, the top law enforcement official in Summit County who has proper response to mental health cases as a priority for his department.
The event capped off the Summit Daily’s second annual Longevity Project feature series which focused on the aspects of high-elevation living that allow people to perform better and thrive in the mountains. The four-part series was published every Friday in September, featured many different local voices, dug deep into the science of high-elevation health and shined a spotlight on the outstanding problems that make living in Summit County a challenge for both the young and old.
The panel began by discussing the known physical issues of living at high altitude. Denkinger and Ebert-Santos discussed what is known about high altitude health, including recent discoveries about conditions that affect residents at high elevation. Dr. Chris, as Ebert-Santos prefers to be called, talked about the difficulty she encountered getting her diagnosis of High Altitude Resident Pulmonary Edema recognized by the medical community as an official diagnosis. She also recommended that every high altitude resident invest in a pulse oximeter, a small diagnostic tool that measures oxygen saturation, to check for high altitude hypoxia while they sleep.
Casey spoke about the work Building Hope does in the community, including providing free resources to help people find and fund the mental health care they need. Since its inception in 2017, Building Hope has provided $300,000 in scholarships to more than 750 locals to allow them to see a therapist. Casey also spoke about establishing of an ambassador program that would see responsible locals act as supports for their peers to encourage them to seek mental health treatment, as well as to promote mindfulness and other techniques to improve mental health.
Sheriff FitzSimons spoke about the work the county has been doing in establishing a Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART) that would see law enforcement officers pair up with a mental health clinician when responding to calls involving a mental health crisis.
Denkinger spoke about the High Altitude Research Center, the first-ever population study of a large number of established high altitude residents. The study would seek to discover any peculiarities about living at high altitude, with subjects from a broad range of demographics chosen at random. When the research outline is approved by an ethics review panel, the research center will go live and Summit County will start learning a lot more about what the high altitude environment does to our bodies.
Lee Boyles, the CEO of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, then spoke about learning about the community since he took on his current role less than a year ago, as well as the possible exciting research breakthroughs that will emerge from the High Altitude Research Center when it is established.
Boyles then introduced Mike Libecki, who was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2013. Libecki shared several stories and insights he gained from his adventures, including the importance of mindfulness and finding friendship in all the different parts of the planet he’s been to.
Libecki spoke about his “climbing addiction,” which leads him to go to places like the eastern coast of Greenland, one of the least explored parts of the planet. Libecki also shared his ideas and thoughts about wildlife conservation, and professed his strong position against polar bear hunting and trophy hunting in general.
Libecki spoke to the mental health factor, which he believes to be the one mysterious X factor that you can never fully prepare for. He showed a video of his expedition to Ua Poa, an island in French Polynesia, where he and his expedition teammates scaled a tall fang of a mountain in the jungle. They were faced with the worst conditions, pushed up against their limits and facing the possibility of failure.
But they pushed through, giving it all they had and relying on mutual trust to get to the summit. He used it as an example of how teamwork and friendship can bring a person to places you never dreamt of being before, and overcome challenges that seem insurmountable on their own.
Libecki then talked about his daughter Lilliana, 15, who is the other passion and focus in life. Lilliana inspired him to give back along with his passion of exploring, forming a non-profit called “Joyineering Fund,” which tries to bring joy to remote communities, doing good wherever they go.
He then asked the audience to go out and do good wherever possible, given the privileges we have living in one of the most beautiful parts of the planet and all the resources we have at our disposal.
He ended the presentation with a pretty simple question: “What are you doing to make the world a better place?” and encouraging everyone to seek connection and therapy, to find ways to disconnect from social media chaos, and live big — “Dream big, and climb those dreams.”
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