A business leader watched in horror as his wife passed out at the top of one of the world’s highest mountains on a fund-raising challenge for a hospice.
Barclays bank relationship director for North Wales and the Shires Paul Ffoulkes was powerless to help as his wife, Katrina, succumbed to severe dehydration, potentially fatal altitude sickness and desperately struggled to breathe whilst climbing Kilimanjaro.
Mountain guides rushed to her aid, administering oxygen and half carried her at breakneck speed back to base camp.
Speaking about the expedition at the Wrexham Business Professionals group’s Christmas dinner, Paul revealed how more than £110,000 was raised in sponsorship from the energy-sapping ascent in aid of the town’s Nightingale Hospice.
Local entrepreneurs responded generously to his plea for continued support for the hospice by giving more than £2,000 in further donations on the night, including £500 from Williams Financial in Wrexham.
The event at the town’s Ramada Plaza Hotel was the first major gathering held by Wrexham Business Professionals since it was forced to postpone a range of activities during COVID pandemic lockdowns.
The group is made up of successful businesses and skilled professionals working together to promote regional prosperity and shine a light on the enterprise and expertise that exists in the region.
Paul said: “I’m fortunate that after four decades of working with Barclays I’ve become extremely familiar with our business community. They are full of enthusiasm to promote not just their own companies but the Wrexham economy as a whole, and their generosity when it comes to supporting community causes is second to none.”
Other speakers were Wrexham Borough Council chief executive Ian Bancroft, who outlined efforts to boost the regional economy and help Wrexham live up to its new found city status, and company boss and philanthropist Martin Ainscough, who told of his fascinating life as one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Recounting the Kilimanjaro expedition, from which his wife is now fully recovered, Paul, 59, said it was the hardest challenge of their lives: “We knew it would be tough but it more than exceeded our expectations. That mountain is brutal, it takes every ounce of steel out of you.
“The last hour was the worst. We could see the landmark Kilimanjaro name-sign on the peak, but every step towards it was more and more debilitating. Exhaustion is too small a word for it.
“There was no physical or mental fuel left in any of us, every single breath we took was painful and our legs were dead weights ploughing through the harshest terrain. It is like walking on sand but in minus 16 degrees temperatures.
“The main problem is altitude sickness. The higher you go the worse is gets and it affects everyone differently. No one knows how their body will react. Symptoms range from loss of appetite to nausea, vomiting, disorientation and total incapacitation.”
Paul described the moment when Katrina, 54, started to lose consciousness as shocking, adrenaline fuelled and full of fear not long after she reached the summit.
But despite the intense emotional trauma of seeing his wife being transported away to get medical assistance, he had no choice but to continue back down from the mountain as quickly as possible.
He said: “The altitude was lung-busting and the temperature glacial. I knew Katrina was suffering but there was nothing I could do. I was running on empty myself. When she passed out I could only stand there and watch as the guides sprang into action administering the oxygen. Then they lifted her up and supported her, they ran at full pelt back down the route we had just climbed. I could not have kept pace with them if I had tried.”
Paul didn’t see his wife again until several hours later after they all made their way back down to camp.
The couple are used to tough challenges. They live in Wrexham where they raised three children, Rebecca, Megan and Paul’s stepson Jake. The family have been strong supporters of Nightingale Hospice for many years.
Fundraising marathons they have accomplished in the past include Katrina and Paul cycling from Vietnam to Cambodia, and Paul biking from London to Paris. They have also led charity balls and music quizzes.
Mount Kilimanjaro is on the border between Tanzania and Kenya. The couple travelled via Ethiopia to the hub city of Moshi and joined a party of 22 trekkers, including an official group doctor, following the Machame route from the south through dense rainforests, moorland and desert.
Paul said: “It is definitely one to tick off the bucket list and it seemed the perfect way to celebrate my 40th anniversary of working with Barclays, as well as raising much needed funds for Nightingale House. I feel incredibly proud that we did it. But it was so much tougher than I ever imagined.
“It was five days up and two days down. We were supported by a group of 70 brilliant local guides and porters who were very hardworking and made us humbled to be in their company.”
He and Katrina are also proud to have helped raise such a huge amount for Wrexham’s Nightingale House Hospice, ‘a truly inspirational place’.
Paul said: “There are few families who have been untouched by cancer or other terminal illness, losing loved ones and dear friends. Both Katrina and I have had lost good friends and we have been privileged to witness at first hand the incredible support this hospice provides at the most difficult of times. But it cannot offer the magnificent service it does without ongoing support. It costs a staggering £11,000 every day to run Nightingale House. That is why we urge people to get behind its fundraising efforts.
“Our thanks go to all who dug deep and gave an extra £2,088 in donations at the Wrexham Business Professionals Christmas dinner. It is appreciated from the bottom of our hearts.”
The event was hosted by leading group member Ian Edwards who said: “It was wonderful to see everybody together again after the long, Covid-enforced break.
“We are hugely grateful to Martin Ainscough for giving of his time and telling the remarkable story of his success in building the UK’s largest crane hire company.
“I would also like to pay tribute to Paul and Katrina’s herculean effort in taking on the formidable challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro in aid of such a worthwhile cause.
“We’re now looking forward to re-starting our usual morning meetings in the New Year so the group can play and even more active role in building Wrexham’s credentials as a great place to do business.”