Our Team - Ray Funnell

Leukemia Survivor - From Deepest Mines to Highest Peaks (Like a Heart Monitor)

Ray and his wife LynneForty-seven year old Raymond Funnell is a happily married man with three children. In August 2006, Ray received news that changed his life forever - he was diagnosed with AML Leukaemia.  At the time Ray said, “I had no idea just how hard or how long the treatment was going to last and that it would totally change my outlook on life - for the better.”

Ray thought his life was all planned out. His busy engineering career was on track and very successful. Being a consultant for the mining industry he had on many occasions climbed down into deep mines in South Africa and internationally, now his world was confined to a hospital isolation room.

Ray was advised that his best solution was to look for a bone marrow “stem-cell” donor. He was fortunate enough to find a perfect sibling match with his brother Gary. On the day of the transplant, Lynne, Ray’s wife had to transport the little bag of stem cells from the donation centre to his hospital, “holding Ray’s life in her own hands” is how Lynne earnestly describes it. By the middle of the year Ray had recovered well enough to manage a hike with his son Jayson.

 RayNothing could have prepared him for what happened next. In March of 2008, Ray went for a routine blood test and found out that he had had a relapse. High concentrations of chemo-therapy treatments followed, leaving Rays’ body weak, anaemic and about 28 kg lighter. Ray said, “During this time I was kept alive by more than fifty (50) blood transfusions and passionately got my family and friends involved in becoming donors”.

Shuffling up and down the Oncology Ward Ray allowed his mind to escape and imagined climbing great heights. In 2010, after his recovery and recalling his daydream, Ray decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He temporarily swapped his ‘day-job’ deepest mines for daydream highest mountains – one extreme to another!

Ray describes his first Mount Kilimanjaro climb by saying, “it was a spiritual experience climbing the highest mountain in Africa and an emotional experience reaching the summit with (his) three climbing companions.” Ray’s outlook on life changed in this moment and this change opened a new world, removing all the feelings of limitation. He decided to embark on an even greater challenge, of climbing the 7 Summits, the highest peak in each continent.

In training for this incredible experience, Ray completed twelve cycle races including the Argus Tour in March 2011 and then in July 2011, he returned to Mount Kilimanjaro and summitted it for the second time in nine months; this time sharing the experience with his then 14 year old son Jayson. Ray summed up the trip by saying, “We were so delighted with our experience that we came back and got tattooed with identical eagle tattoos on our shoulders to remember this trip forever”.

RayAfter this bonding experience with his Dad, Jayson was also hooked; then and there they decided they would attempt to climb the 7 Summits together. Father and Son, an unstoppable team!  So in January 2012, Ray and Jay headed to South America to climb Aconcagua, also known as the Stone Sentinel, which is the second highest of the 7 Summits - more than 1000m higher than Kilimanjaro!

After 12 days of climbing and under difficult conditions with thick snow, Ray had managed to reach an amazing 6700m altitude but was then too tired and dehydrated to continue to the summit a mere 262m higher. Jay, who was now 15 years old, continued on without his father to the summit at an altitude of 6962m and proudly flew a banner promoting the SANBS, the Sunflower Fund and his school King Edward VII (KES) School Flag.

With this achievement Jayson become the youngest South African ever to summit Aconcagua. Concerning Jays’ achievement, Ray said, “It was one of the most proudest and emotional moments of my life handing over the banner to Jayson to take on the summit and not knowing if he would return safely. Those five hours waiting was the longest five hours of my life.”

Ray and Jays’ next climb will be Mount Elbrus in Russia, the highest peak in Europe, which they will begin to ascend on 22nd June 2012.  After that challenge - in January 2013 this father-son team will head for Antarctica to climb Mount Vinson which is only 1200 kilometres from the South Pole.

They will face extreme temperatures of minus 40°C in this remote land. Again, the Funnell men will use these climbs to increase awareness for the need for blood, platelet and bone marrow donors. The remaining summits will be Carstensz Pyramid, Denali (Mount McKinley), Vinson Massif and Mount Everest.

Ray’s dream and definitive goal is to inspire other cancer survivors and anyone who is listening with a message “Never lose your Dream” and to challenge donors and prospective donors that through their simple gift of time and life giving blood products they can transform survivors into winners.

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