Jesse Ross spent over half of the first 20 days of his life at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD). On May 22, 1995, Ross was born with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), a severe pulmonary disorder. Today, Ross is a healthy 19-year-old who has decided to give back to CHaD through fundraising and raising awareness of this condition by hiking the 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
"I spent the first weeks of my life at CHaD and Boston Children's Hospital, so it is amazing to think that now I'm healthy, and I'm going to do this hike to put the focus back on CHaD," Ross says. "I know this journey is going to be really difficult on some days, but overall it will be a positive experience. Teaming up with CHaD puts that into perspective and I'm excited to have that connection. I think that will help pull me North at times – I may be hiking out in the rain, but there are things to look forward to."
An environmental engineering student at the University of New Hampshire, Ross is taking off his spring semester to accomplish this five-month hike. He began February 25 at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and will hike the 2,185 miles up to the Katahdin region in Maine, finishing at the end of July.
"I understand the magnitude of this hike. I have spent many days and nights in the mountains gaining an appreciation for longer trips. While in high school at Holderness, I hiked with a group in the winter for 11 days with fairly low mileage. My longest day of hiking would be doing the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains, which was a total of 24 miles in one day," he says. "In preparation, I've come to terms with all aspects of the journey; there will be miserable days that supplement the romantic views."
Quick decisions helped save his life
When Ross was born, doctors and his parents knew immediately that something was wrong. During the first day of his life, he wasn't able to breathe by himself and was taken by ambulance to the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC).
"I spent the next full day at CHaD, and they did all sorts of tests because they didn't know what was wrong. After a day-and-a-half, they were able to say, 'it's a healthy body here, but there's an issue with oxygenating the blood.' They finally were able to diagnose me with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn," he says. "CHaD was really proactive, being able to diagnose that, and they also knew of a study involved in this specific problem at Boston Children's Hospital. My dad was with me at DHMC the first day, but went back to Laconia where my Mom was still in the hospital. While there, they received a call from Dr. Judy Frank at CHaD that I had rejected the respirator and they were making arrangements to send me to Boston on the DHART for the Nitric Oxide study."
Ross says CHaD got him into that study, but one last hurdle to treatment was an impending storm.
"My parents recall that there was storm coming in that morning, and we had a 20-minute window for DHART to fly out. Dr. Bill Edwards was in the helicopter with me, having to handbag my breathing because I wasn't hooked up to any machines," he says. "I spent seven days there (Boston Children's Hospital) and I stabilized. Once everything was going well, they sent me back to CHaD for 11 days. It is incredible that all of this happened and I relive it through my parent's stories. It's amazing that the nurses and doctors were able to recognize what I needed and made quick decisions that saved my life."
Hiking has always been a passion
Growing up with Gunstock Mountain in his backyard in Gilford, NH, Ross says he developed a love for hiking at a young age.
"I fell in love with the woods pretty early. I've always kind of hoped I'd be able to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail – it's been at the back of my mind for a long time. This past year, school was going well and I was looking at the opportunity to hike the Appalachian Trail over the summer. It was a tight window, and it seemed that I'd be rushing through it," he says. "From what I've heard, I wanted to enjoy it and take my time. My advisor was very supportive and we worked out how I'd take a leave this spring semester and still be a student with an academic tie to the environment. When I found myself with this opportunity I never doubted taking it."
Ross says he's looking forward to finding new experiences during his hike that will be applicable to all aspects of his life.
"I'm excited to learn a lot and bring it back to school and to use my hike as a bigger thing than just taking a semester off to hike in the woods. It's a really cool chance to let people know about CHaD and they should feel lucky to have it in our state," he says.
Being a part of something bigger than himself
When he contacted CHaD to tell them about his hike, he says they were very receptive and encouraging, helping him to set up his fundraising page. CHaD's funding partner, Positive Tracks, will double the amount that Ross raises. Positive Tracks is a national youth centric nonprofit that "empowers ages 23 and under to turn miles of physical activity into doubled dollars."
Ross says he is anxious to get started.
"My goal is to be in New England for June and then hopefully in mid-June pass through Hanover. My parents and friends are all really supportive, but I do have nerves and I'm excited to do this," he says. "Even stepping up to the plate to do this is exciting in and of itself. I love hiking, but to get my head around actually living on the trail – I'm picturing it as a semester abroad in my mind. It's going to be a totally different civilization and lifestyle. I'm looking forward to just diving in, meeting people and really enjoying myself. I want to get everything I can out of this."
Here's an update on Jesse's progress.