Proud to support From Fire To Ice Expedition


Does Rob Small possess a rare gene which enabled him to survive an horrific house fire and explosion in Zanzibar in 2010? Can that gene be used to help others to survive trauma and disease?


The From Fire To Ice expedition to the South Pole is going to find out. We're delighted to be an official supporter of this remarkable expedition.


In January 2010 the idyllic life life of diving instructor Rob Small changed forever.


His home in Zanzibar caught fire, trapping him inside. With a 27% chance of survival, over 200 days in hospital, 30 operations (so far) and the pain of having to learn to walk again, emergency and medical staff fought to save and then rebuild his life.


Did Rob beat the odds and survive his burn injuries because he had a genetic or physiological advantage over the average individual? Given the extent of his burn, and where it occurred, he was at very high risk of death, and yet he survived.


We know that one in five of us will be admitted to intensive care during the course of our lives – unfortunately, two fifths of those admitted will not survive their stay. Is there something that we can learn from what happened to Rob, by conducting experiments that can probe the secrets of his cells?


The From Fire To Ice expedition will be the first time a burns survivor will attempt to reach the South Pole unsupported, thereby completing Ernest Shackleton’s unfinished journey on the Nimrod expedition, when Shackleton came within 97 miles of Pole: further South than any man had ever travelled.


Before, during and after the expedition the medical members of the team will be performing tests while monitoring Rob’s physiology. The team are hoping to determine if there are any clues in his body’s response to the stress of the cold and sustained exercise that might explain his survival from this devastating burn.


Why Antarctica?


The stress Rob's body will undergo during sustained exercise in extreme cold will reproduce some of the metabolic and physiological changes that occurred when he was burned, as the team work to survive in this extreme environment.


Not only is the Antarctic plateau one of the coldest places on Earth, it is also at a very high altitude, with an average elevation of about 3000m. 


The spin of the Earth means that there is even less atmosphere above, with the result that the amount of oxygen available to breathe is similar to that in some of the highest villages in the Himalayas. 


Critically ill patients also have low oxygen levels in their blood, a condition known as hypoxia. By comparing what happens in the body of an intensive care survivor exposed to both extreme exercise and hypoxia on Shackleton’s unfinished journey with research previously conducted in the Himalayas, we can gain a unique insight into hitherto hidden areas of knowledge.


The Expedition


During December 2015 extending into January 2016, the From Fire To Ice team will be flown from Punta Arenas at the southern tip of South America to the Antarctic base camp at Union Glacier. After a few days further preparation we shall fly by Twin Otter to latitude 88’23 S. – the furthest point South that Shackleton reached.


The team will live under canvas, travelling on ski, towing sledges of supplies 112 statute miles to the South Pole. Their journey will traverse enormous ice fields and glaciers, finally ascending to the polar plateau at almost 10,000 feet. The wind will always be against them, providing a remorseless minus 50-degree wind-chill. For a novice team, the challenge is huge.


How will Rob’s body cope?


By working with scientists from the UCL Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, Portex Unit, Institute of Child Health, London, United Kingdom and the Institute of Sports, Exercise and Health, the team will be adding information to the large database available from the Xtreme-Everest expeditions, but with the important difference that Rob has already been exposed to the life-changing stresses of critical illness. 


What changes has that induced? In addition, how will the specific burn-related injuries cope in this cold, high environment?


We're delighted and honoured to be an Official Supporter of the From Fire To Ice expedition. And we hope you will support it too!

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