The Villager—New York City—December 23, 2009
Donald Healy first got into mountaineering about three years ago when he turned 61. He hopes to reach the summit of Mt. Everest by the time his 65th birthday rolls around in May of next year.
Healy, who lives in the West Village with his wife, Joyce, and runs a successful sign-manufacturing business, climbed Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), in Alaska, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet, last June as a tune-up for the assault on the Himalayan peak, the tallest on earth at 29,035 feet.
“I’ve always wanted to mountain climb, but I never even worked out much,” he told a visitor last week. When he was 10 years old, he read “The Conquest of Everest” from cover to cover — the book about the 1953 ascent to the summit of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
He remained an armchair mountaineer until May 2006 when he thought it was the now-or-never time to really do it.
“I realized that I needed more aerobic work and went back to the gym,” he recalled. “I was in my 60s and the average age of the other climbers was about 30. Even guides retire when they’re 45 or 50,” Healy said.
Healy signed on for a climb of Mt. Rainier, the 14,411-foot peak in Washington, to start Aug. 8, 2007 — but fate in the form of a bicycle accident intervened.
“I decided to take a three-day bike trip in New Hampshire with my wife,” Healy recalled. He was accelerating down a steep hill with Joyce following him when his helmet flew off, his bike slid down sideways with him under it and scraping his entire left side on the asphalt of a mountain road.
“I didn’t know what happened or if anything was broken,” he said. “I just wanted to get out of the middle of the road. It was a good thing Joyce was riding behind me. She flagged down a guy who called 911.”
At the small hospital in North Conway, N.H., he learned he had fractured the ball-and-socket joint of his left hip.
“It’s ski country and the orthopedic doctors are good,” Healy said. “They gave me a couple of options and I chose getting the leg pinned — there was a 40 percent chance that it would heal without further surgery.”
He was able to get around on crutches and went on a September cruise of the Mediterranean with Joyce. But by Sept. 23, 2007, he knew the leg wasn’t healing. Healy researched hip surgery like he researched mountaineering.
“Do you know that the ball-and-socket joint of the average male makes about 1 million cycles a year?” Healy asked his visitor. He decided to go to the Hospital for Special Surgery, where Dr. Thomas P. Sculco replaced the hip. Healy described the process, showing X-ray pictures of his own hip. It involves carving a new socket in the hip, lining it with ceramic and inserting a titanium pin in the femur with a ceramic ball that articulates in the new socket.
The day after his surgery, Healy said, he was walking with a cane and was ready to attend physical therapy.
“I didn’t want to let go of all that training, and the doctor said he thought I’d be able to climb again,” Healy said.
He left the hospital Oct. 19 and began two months of therapy.
Three months after the hip replacement, Healy was on a mountain again, the Gros Piton, a step rock of 2,600 feet on St. Lucia.
“The hip worked O.K.,” he said of the Jan. 17, 2008, Caribbean climb. About 10 weeks later, he tried snow and ice, climbing the 5,799-foot Mt. Adams in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.
Less than a year after the accident sidetracked his first attempt to scale Mt. Rainier, on June 14, 2008, he found himself climbing the 14,411-foot Washington peak.
“I’m thinking of writing a piece entitled, ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Everest,’ ” he quipped.
This story originally appeared at thevillager.com.