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HEART TRANSPLANT PATIENT CLIMBS MOUNT WHITNEY

Two years after her old heart gave out, Kelly Perkins put her new one to an amazing test: She scaled the nation's highest peak outside Alaska.

No other heart transplant patient is known to have climbed 14,495-foot Mount Whitney, a daunting trek even for those with no health problems.

Ms. Perkins, a 36-year-old real estate appraiser, made the rugged, 22-mile hike over three days, tearfully hugging her companions atop Whitney on Tuesday, and blowing bubbles to celebrate.

"You basically live in fear for so long that you're afraid to try to push your limits at all," she said. "And so it's very freeing to be able to push those limits and to succeed and know that you're back."

Ms. Perkins -- 5-foot-3 and 95 pounds -- had a go-ahead from her doctor because she was an experienced climber and had worked hard to rebuild her strength after her 1995 transplant.

As a precaution, her climbing team -- including her husband, Craig, also 36, and four others -- shared her load, carrying her blood pressure monitor and oxygen canisters. As it turned out, she didn't use the oxygen at all.

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