Alpha Stories

Published on Friday, August 15, 2014

Florida police officer carries Alpha flag on climb up Mount Rainier

Florida police officer carries Alpha flag on climb up Mount Rainier

Dorothea “Dee” Meisner is a police officer in Cocoa, Florida. At age 55, she’s been working in law enforcement for 20 years. Till very recently she was a street cop, patrolling her city beat alone in a squad car.

Meisner has lung disease due to Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Meisner, who never smoked in her life, was diagnosed 10 years ago with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She got tested because her brother, who is now on a lung transplant list, was diagnosed with Alpha-1, and she was told that a family history of Alpha-1 is a major risk factor for this genetic condition. As Dee proves, Alpha-1 can cause lung disease even in people who never smoked.

As if being a street cop dealing with breathing problems isn’t enough of a challenge, Meisner has come up with another one: She’s begun to hike up mountains. On the morning of Aug. 11, she hiked nearly 5,000 feet up a challenging portion of Mount Rainier, both to increase awareness of Alpha-1 and raise funds for the Alpha-1 Foundation’s research programs.

Meisner ready to begin the climb, with Rainier in the background.
Meisner ready to begin the climb, with Rainier in the background.

Waiting for a break in the weather, Meisner began at the parking area of the Paradise site, about 5,000 feet up Mount Rainier. Her plan was to hike an additional 5,000 feet up to Camp Muir, an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. Camp Muir, named after naturalist John Muir, is a common staging area for anyone aiming to reach the peak of Rainier, at 14,410 feet.

"It took eight hours to ascend to 9,500 feet at Anvil Rock," Meisner said. "I was about 700 feet short of Camp Muir. But because I was exhausted, my oxygen numbers were dropping quickly, storm clouds were rolling in and I still had a long distance down, I decided to stop there."

The climb from Paradise to Camp Muir is itself a major challenge. “At about 8,000 feet elevation you will start to breathe heavily as the air gets thinner at that point ... and even thinner as you go higher up,” reads a standard warning to perfectly healthy climbers. “This is a non-technical but advanced difficult hike.”

Why Mount Rainier in Washington State, on the opposite corner of the country from Florida?

“I visited Rainier the past two years,” says Meisner. “The first time was when I helped my daughter move across the country. While I was visiting, I overheard some people talking about hiking up to Camp Muir. That conversation lit a fire under me. I decided it was a heck of a life challenge.”

She trains for mountain hiking “as often as I can,” she says. Her first climb was 3,200 feet on Saddle Mountain in Oregon with her daughter and son-in-law.

“Some people walked that as if they were just strolling on level ground,” she says. “That’s not me. I’ve been given a trail name: Huff ’N Puff.”

She made it to the top of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, just over 3,000 feet but very rocky. She also climbed up to the observation area on Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail and in Tennessee.

Her husband Eerik has climbed with her in the past, but recently took a new job so didn't join her for the Mount Rainier climb.

"I have good recovery time," Meisner said. She had gotten the green light to climb from her doctor, well-known Alpha-1 specialist and Foundation Community Resource Center Director Mark Brantly at the University of Florida, and Meisner said her boss, the police chief, is "OK with this, too."

Meisner's goal is to raise at least $5,000 for Alpha-1 research programs. You can still donate here.