The WellSpan Spotlight

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WellSpan BrightSpot: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for clean water


Who: Stephen Cattalo, a nurse anesthetist at WellSpan York Hospital.

What: Stephen climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania last month with a team that raised money to build wells and increase access to clean water in East Africa.

Stephen personally raised more than $10,000 and his team collectively raised more than $130,000 to benefit the work of Conquering Kili, an arm of a non-profit organization called the Waterboys, which was started by retired NFL player Chris Long and attracts support from military veterans and professional athletes such as former NFL player Isaiah Stanback, who was on Stephen's team.

Conquering Kili unites teams on a hike to the summit of the highest mountain in Africa, a walk that represents the miles that many African women journey on a daily basis to collect clean water for their families.

Stephen is a U.S. Army veteran who served 11 years of active duty and is now in the U.S. Army Reserves. His active duty took him to Tanzania, where he trained with that country's army and saw how access to clean water improves lives while opening opportunities to build schools and medical facilities.

He raised money through donors and fundraisers, noting he received great financial and emotional support from his fellow team members at WellSpan. He also trained for the trip by going to the gym and spending hours on a stair climber to prepare his legs and build his endurance.

His team was on the mountain for six days, walking 50 miles, an experience that Stephen described as "a very strenuous hike." The final snowy climb was to the 19,341-foot peak, with a wind chill factor that plummeted to minus-30 degrees.

"We started at midnight for the summit, and it was straight up," Stephen says. "Once you get above 17,000 feet, it becomes very hard to breathe."

The team, he notes, "came in a strangers but we kind of left as brothers. In terms of the experiences, the camaraderie, the challenges, and the support of each other, that is something that is going to stick with me for the rest of my life."

Words to live by: "Trying to do my part to help across the world has been something I strive to do," Stephen says of his motivation for the climb. "I got to see a lot of places when I was in the military. In the U.S., sometimes we take a lot of things for granted. It felt good to help out other people."

Before his team embarked on their trip up the mountain, the members traveled to see four wells, including two school wells, which were installed from the funds raised by the 2023 Conquering Kili team.

"Oh it was phenomenal," he says. "We got to hear the difference that has been made. The students told how their lives had been changed by being able to get water, in terms of cooking and bathrooms, and how clean water helps to prevent the spread of illness. Just the whole time, I was thinking about how their lives have been changed by something as basic as clean water."

Jim Nell, chief nurse anesthetist at WellSpan York Hospital, said his WellSpan team is proud of Stephen's trip, noting, "This is another example of how our service members give back to the community and other countries. We were extremely excited to hear about his trip to Kili. … Stephen is genuinely a giving individual and will go and above to give back whenever he can."