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Dramatic turn to fundraiser

SARAH ARGYLE
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014
Harrison and William Smith

LITTLE DARLINGS: A fund is raising money for British boy Harrison Smith, 7, pictured with younger brother William, 5.

Rex Willoughby
GREAT CAUSE: Seventy-year-old Rex Willoughby took part in the Emirates2Everest Trek to raise money for the charity Harrison’s Fund, a cause that is close to his heart.

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Rex Willoughby has always been a fitness fanatic.

A cause close to his heart and the chance to use his hobby to raise money inspired him to set his sights high - Mt Everest high.

But the 70-year-old Devonport resident's trip took a dramatic turn when he had to be airlifted off the mountain.

Willougby took part in the Emirates2Everest Trek last month to raise funds for Harrison's Fund.

The charity is named after Willoughby's seven-year-old grandson Harrison Smith who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy three years ago.

The fatal genetic condition restricts muscle growth causing the body to ultimately shut down.

Willoughby joined five adventurers to tackle the Himalayas and reach the summit Goyko Ri that looks across the mountain ridge and glacier towards Everest.

It took Willoughby eight days to reach Goyko Ri but at 4800 metres he began experiencing breathlessness and had to be helicoptered off the mountain.

Willoughby says having the trek cut short was a double-edged sword.

"In one sense I was so disappointed not to complete it. But being helicoptered down was one of the most incredible experiences. I was literally on top of the world."

Willoughby says his grandson's diagnosis rocked their tight-knit family.

"For most people Harrison looks completely healthy but on the inside he is already struggling."

Harrison's muscles are deteriorating at an alarming rate, Willoughby says.

"There's no cure, it's really tragic. Unless they find a cure Harrison will be in a wheelchair in the next few years and his life expectancy will be considerably shorter."

He still remembers the day he knew there was something different about Harrison.

"I was walking behind him up the stairs and he was taking one at a time because his muscles couldn't cope.

"And when he fell down, he couldn't pick himself up properly. It was pretty devastating."

Willoughby himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer 20 years ago and used trekking the world's tallest peaks as a coping mechanism and method to fundraise for the disease.

"When I found out about Harrison I switched my allegiance and started raising money for him instead."

Willougby says Harrison's parents Donna and Alex had two options after learning about their son's condition.

"They could have gone within themselves or they could have done something about it."

The pair created Harrison's Fund in the hope of raising enough money to handover to the world's best researchers and eventually eradicate the disease.

To date Willoughby has managed to raise 70 per cent of his $5000 for the Everest adventure.

Visit justgiving.com/Rex-Willoughby to support fundraising efforts. Or go to harrisonsfund.com for more information about Harrison Smith and his Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy battle.

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- North Shore Times

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