Creighton University professor leads burn survivors up Mt. Kilimanjaro

For him, it was a chance to overcome another challenge with people special to him.
A story of survival, resilience, and hope.
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 5:43 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - You can call it a triumph of the human spirit. A Creighton University professor took on a challenge like no other, leading a group of hikers to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Dr. Kevin Foster is a professor at Creighton University and the Director of the Arizona Burn Center. In his limited, free time, Foster hits the outdoors. “My family and I have been hikers for many, many years. I’m just a weekend hiker,” he said.

But when asked by colleagues to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, Foster didn’t hesitate. “I said yes, absolutely. I know some really good people who would love to do this. So, let’s do it,” he said.

The thrill of the hike wasn’t Foster’s main motivation. For him, it was a chance to overcome another challenge with people special to him: his patients, who are burn survivors. “I like all of them. I love all of them personally,” he said.

So, in June 2022, eight survivors and their supporters hit the trail. Foster said he had no doubts the survivors would approach the hike like they did their recovery. “They would approach it with enthusiasm and aggressiveness and that they would stick to it and get to the top,” he said.

Hiker Isabella McCune suffered burns on over 65% of her body after a gas tank exploded on her. The now 13-year-old spent nine months in the hospital. “Every day it was dressing change or surgery or getting ready for something or physical therapy. It was really hard,” she said.

But McCune learned resilience. “I know if you keep trying and keep pushing and persevere you can do it,” she said.

Some hikers turned back, but all eight burn survivors made it to the top.

Foster admits it wasn’t easy but says it doesn’t come close to what the burn survivors have been through. “Most people who hike Kilimanjaro will come off of it and tell you that was the hardest thing that they ever did. And I guarantee you, none of the burn survivors said that,” he said.

The hike raised over $350,000 to help expand the Arizona Burn Center.

A new burn unit is expected to open late next year.