From the toasty perch of my living room couch, I learned about Natalia Luis and Cidalia Luis-Akbar, two sisters who set out on a mission to climb the world's highest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
And while I raised my mug of hot chocolate to them and wished them the best, I was blown away by the reason behind their miles. Not a journey for self-fulfillment, not a journey to set a record — but a journey for babies in need.
By climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the pair of sisters raised funds with the Fetal Medicine Institute of the Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C., to support earlier, more accurate diagnostics during high-risk pregnancies and help set a new standard of care for fragile newborns.
The journey started as a personal one for Cidalia, who lost her first son, Joseph, after he was diagnosed in utero as being sick. Cidalia went on to lose six other children and battled cancer during her long ordeal of loss.
Then, in 2009, she gave birth to a beautiful and healthy daughter, Sophia, a moment that started Cidalia on a new mission to give back to parents facing high-risk pregnancies. Explaining that the intervention she needed during her first pregnancy wasn't available, Cidalia now wants to bring those necessary medical advances to the District of Columbia and the nation.
"I want more parents to have the opportunity to have healthy children," says Cidalia. "We want to make sure that parents and babies have the medical care they need to lead healthy lives, and we think the Fetal Medicine Institute at Children’s National Health System represents the future for fetal medicine. The focus is diagnosing babies earlier and more accurately during high-risk pregnancies and setting a new standard of care for newborns."
Together with her sister, Natalia, Cidalia embarked on her journey the week before Thanksgiving and reached the top on Thanksgiving Day. At the top, they waved the flag of the Children's National Health System and thanked everyone who supported their journey.
Mount Kilimanjaro translates to "Mountain of Greatness" or "Mountain of Light" and with these two sisters on a mission, it has literally become both, as the pair has shined a beacon of light on the need for awareness and research needed to save the lives of high-risk babies everywhere. "Our decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro symbolizes our desire to take fetal medicine to new heights," notes Natalia.
The sisters have raised over $264,000, over half of their goal of $500,000. You can learn more and donate to the cause for millions of healthy babies on their fundraising website.
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