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Disabled man sky-dives over Everest

AFP-JIJI

A French multiple sclerosis sufferer Sunday became the first disabled person to sky-dive over Mount Everest, successfully completing his landing before being taken to a hospital as a precaution.

“I feel very happy. I am exhausted but very happy,” Marc Kopp said from a hospital bed in Katmandu, where doctors examined him for any injuries sustained during the jump.

The 55-year-old Kopp, who lives in Longwy northeast of Paris, has suffered for more than a decade from multiple sclerosis, the degenerative disease of the nervous system that disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate with the body.

Muscles weaken, lesions emerge on the brain and spinal cord and in the worst cases, patients can lose the ability to speak or walk.

The tandem sky-dive saw Kopp jump out of a helicopter hovering at 32,800 feet (10,000 meters) above the mountain, accompanied by his friend, champion sky diver Mario Gervasi.

“I hope my action will inspire others living with this illness. I hope many more will follow in my footsteps,” Kopp said.

He said preparation for the jump was “very painful” and left his whole body hurting.

Although he usually uses a wheelchair, the trek through the Himalayas meant he had to spend several hours a day riding a horse, which was hard on his spine, to reach the airstrip for the jump.

“There were many times in the last few days when I thought I wouldn’t be able to realize my dream,” he said.

Kopp raised €26,000 ($35,885) for the trip from friends and well-wishers.

After completing the jump Sunday morning, he returned to Katmandu by helicopter, where doctors advised him to rest for a day.

Kopp currently volunteers and runs a support group for fellow sufferers.

It was 13 years ago when Kopp, then a senior manager in a local government, felt a haze before his eyes. He dismissed the blurred vision — a symptom of MS — as a sign of working too hard.

Then he had trouble moving his right leg, experiencing sharp pain when he tried to do the simplest tasks.

His right arm followed and soon, his whole right side hurt. An enthusiastic horseman, eventually, every activity became painful.

After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed in 2001 with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a form of MS with almost no prospect of remission.

“I thought I was prepared to hear anything, it had taken so long, one year to diagnose the cause. But when I heard the news, it hit me hard,” he said.

As his condition worsened, he became increasingly determined not to simply become a victim and instead began volunteering for a support group for fellow sufferers.

When he met Gervasi last July at a parachuting event in Lorraine, the sky diver who has jumped over Everest and over the North and South poles, was planning a trip to Nepal with French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane.

But a clash of schedules meant the soccer player could not join him and instead, he asked Kopp if he wanted to skydive over the mountain together.

It took Kopp less than a minute to say yes.

“Why not? I felt like I would send a message of hope. Even if you are sick, you are still alive.”