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Westminster native climbs a mountain for a cause

With visible excitement, Chris Glass runs his finger across a large wall map of the world at the world headquarters of the nonprofit, IMA World Health, in New Windsor.

He carefully traces his route to Tanzania, then taps his finger gently on Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak on the African continent.

In a few weeks, Glass, a Westminster native and a communications officer with IMA World Health, will be climbing the 19,336-foot summit. His objective is to raise both awareness and funding to fight for Burkitt's lymphoma, a particularly aggressive form of childhood cancer for which IMA provides treatment in Tanzania and other Third World countries.

"One of the first problems is that Burkitt's is not diagnosed properly," said Glass, 38. "It's a very aggressive cancer that affects children from roughly ages 3 to 13.

"It's a tumor that starts in the jaw area," he said. "People often think their child just has a toothache, and they'll wait. Then the lymphoma takes off. It causes extremely painful and disfiguring swelling of the jaw, eyes, face and abdomen. If it's not treated, it can be fatal within weeks.

But with chemotherapy, he notes, the condition usually starts to respond quickly and can be successfully treated.

"We support more than 30 hospitals and clinics across Tanzania with training on how to identify it early," he said.

Glass said the idea for turning his climb into a benefit effort came from IMA World Health President Rick Santos. He stresses that he's paying for the climb himself; all the funds for his climbing, gear and high-altitude accouterments have come out of his own pocket.

"It's definitely not paying for me to buy a new jacket," he said with a laugh.

Every dime he raises from sponsors and supporters will go toward treating kids with Burkitt's lymphoma. IMA's Burkitt's treatment program in Tanzania is run in partnership with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Tanzania-based Ocean Roads Cancer Institute.

Glass, an outdoorsman who thrives on 15- and 20-mile hikes on the Appalachian Trail, has known for months he would be going to Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of his "day job," which is writing press releases, photographing, shooting video, updating IMA World Health's Web site and otherwise documenting IMA's programs in those nations.

Since the earthquake in Haiti, he also has been on two extensive IMA relief missions to that impoverished country.

IMA's programs in Tanzania and elsewhere also treat cervical cancer, HIV/AIDs and various ailments that fall under the heading of neglected tropical diseases. The agency also provides safe houses, medical treatment, emotional and legal counseling and literacy training for rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For two years in a row IMA World Health was rated one of the world's 20 most efficient charities by the business magazine, Forbes.

Suggestion leads to a mission

It was one of Glass' coworkers, who'd lived in Tanzania for a while, who offhandedly suggested one day that since Glass loved hiking so much he ought to climb Kilimanjaro while he was in the "neighborhood."

"He said he'd tried several times when he was there, but for various reasons never made it to the summit," said Glass, a former newspaper photographer. "That kind of planted the seed. I started researching and reading about it and seeing how difficult it would be."

Ultimately, he decided to tack a week's vacation time onto his two working weeks in Africa. Several months ago he started training by running four to five miles a day and hiking 15 or 20 miles on weekends.

"Then one day I was talking to our president, Rick Santos, and he came up with the idea of doing the climb as fundraiser for one of our programs."

Later, Glass talked with an IMA consultant who had done the climb and was able to suggest a route. He also advised him to spread the climb over six days in order to adjust for the altitude and climate changes.

"The Marangu route, which I'll be taking, is very steep at times and at other times it will be more like the Appalachian Trail," said Glass, who leaves for Africa on Aug. 19. "But you're also fighting with the altitude and the lack of oxygen and the threat of altitude sickness. That's the wild card in the whole thing.

"Plus, I'll be going from a warm climate at the base to permanent glaciers at the summit. I'll start off in shorts and end up in a parka and ski gloves."

Glass has created a blog (www.climbingforima.blogspot.com) where is posting progress reports on his training and the upcoming climb. Anyone interested can also make a donation via the blog. He has also been seeking corporate sponsors.

"I'm very excited about it," Glass said. "I've never been to Africa, so that alone will be an eye opener. And I like challenging myself and finding ways to do it that will hopefully benefit others. So for me, this climb is a great combination."

Donations to the IMA World Health Burkitt's lymphoma program can be made online at http://www.imaworldhealth.org; or contact Christopher Glass at 1-877-241-7952, or via email at chrisglass@imaworldhealth.org.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story online, and in our print edition, incorrectly stated that Mr. Glass' would be traveling to Sudan as part of this trip. It has been corrected here.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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