Climbing Kilimanjaro to beat Huntington’s Disease

Climbing Kilimanjaro to beat Huntington’s Disease

Laura Dixon at the summit of Mount Meru in Tanzania in February 2022.

Laura Dixon is ready to climb a mountain to benefit people with a rare, inherited neurological disease.

The University of Louisville staff member and alumna is planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise awareness and support patients with Huntington’s Disease and their families.

“I decided if I was going to make this climb, I wanted to make it count. I want to make a difference for this underserved, underrepresented and often misunderstood population,” Dixon said.

The highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro is a snow-capped dormant volcano that rises 19,341 feet above sea level. After climbing nearby 14,968-foot Mount Meru in February 2022, Dixon set a goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with the added motivation of increasing awareness of Huntington’s Disease and raising funds for the research, education and advocacy of the Kentucky Chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA). 

Dixon has treated patients with Huntington's Disease (HD) for more than seven years as a nurse practitioner in the UofL Department of Neurology, co-director of UofL's HDSA Center of Excellence and director of the Huntington’s Disease Multidisciplinary Clinic at UofL Physicians.

Huntington's Disease is a progressive, incurable and fatal disease that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. According to HDSA, approximately 41,000 Americans have symptomatic HD. Symptoms usually first appear in patients between the ages of 30 and 50 and can include involuntary movements, cognition difficulties and psychiatric problems such as depression and irritability. The disorder is caused by a single specific gene.

“After caring for more than 100 people with Huntington's Disease over the years, it is not lost on me how fortunate I am to have the opportunity and the physical and cognitive abilities needed to make this climb,” Dixon said. “I will be carrying my people with me every step of the way.”

UofL has the only HDSA Center of Excellence in Kentucky. The twice-monthly clinic offers multidisciplinary care for patients and families with HD, providing services in nutrition, mental health, social services. Patients also have access to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy and genetic counseling.

Dixon will start her seven-day ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro on March 1. To support her climb with a donation to HDSA, visit her page on their website.