>Years diving: 48
>Favorite dive destination: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
>Why I'm a DAN member: When I first started diving, there was no single organization looking out for the good of the sport. DAN has filled that role with its research, education and emphasis on safety.
>Standing on the summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica, kneeling in the mud of the Amazon jungle, floating in NASA's zero-gravity C-9 "vomit comet," rocking on a boat in Galapagos waters or exploring undeveloped Eastern Bhutan, Ken Kamler has practiced medicine in settings far outside the traditional. An orthopedic surgeon trained in microsurgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Kamler realized his medical journey didn't have to be limited by the walls of hospitals or clinics; early in his career he joined a climbing expedition to Peru, where he found himself opening doors to a unique and inspirational practice.
>As a child growing up in the Bronx, Kamler learned about extreme environments from reading books such as Annapurna, Maurice Herzog's 1951 account of climbing the highest mountain ever climbed at that time, and watching TV shows such as Sea Hunt, a fictional account of the underwater adventures of a former U.S. Navy diver. The idea of exploring the vast open spaces of these narratives — of leaving behind New York's concrete skyline — intrigued Kamler. Rather than direct his curiosity to the vast world outside of his immediate sphere, however, he directed his early passion for exploration toward the microscopic, where he could explore an entirely different world. As he explained: "The most mysterious, unexplored area in the universe is the human body. Nothing is as complex." This mindset ushered him into the world of science and medicine.
>Kamler soon discovered that medicine as he knew it would not accommodate his adventurous spirit. "I didn't want to be a prisoner of my profession," he said. Instead he dreamed of accumulating experiences and began traveling extensively to austere environments as an expedition physician. In 2013, for example, he was the expedition doctor on Jeff Bezos' salvage boat that aimed to recover the first-stage rocket engine from Apollo 11, the NASA spacecraft that landed the first humans on the moon in 1969. Using advanced sonar and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), the team navigated rough seas to lift the engine from its 14,000-foot depth.
>Being a physician in extreme environments can be difficult. "What people don't think about is that the doctor is in the same harsh environment as the patient he is treating — cold, wet, tired, oxygen-deprived — and has to call upon his own inner strength to overcome what conditions he can, and ignore those he can't, so that he can focus on what needs to be done," Kamler said.
>In his summit attempt of Everest, Kamler climbed to within 900 vertical feet of the top, and he sees that experience as a success. It is not a number or a specific feat that drives him, but rather the personal triumph of pushing beyond his limits. "Everyone should have his or her own Everest — some nearly impossible goal you can pursue," he said. "Whether or not you make it, you will have pushed yourself to your limit. When we find inner strengths we never knew we had and achieve more than we ever thought possible, it is life-changing."
>His patients appreciate his fascination for the natural world and often look forward to asking him about his travels, which he has written about in Doctor on Everest and Surviving the Extremes. Although he enjoys mountaineering, diving and finding opportunities to strip down to the essentials of living, Kamler still maintains a surgical practice in New York, earning many accolades for his medical accomplishments. But that is not stopping him from setting out for the Yucatan's cenotes, Venezuela's tepuis or ancient Inca ruins in Peru.
>Watch Kenneth Kamler's TED Talk, Medical Miracle on Everest.
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>© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2015