Overcome Your Mountain

My Heart Condition

On December 3rd, 2020, I received a routine echocardiogram prior to my Everest expedition. The test was done to make sure my heart was dialed in for the climb. Instead of receiving positive feedback, the test determined that I had a heart condition called a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO). This is a hole in the heart that didn’t close the way it should after birth. It was present in the wall between the right and left upper chambers of my heart. The condition is most important because it raises the risk of stroke at high altitudes, along with High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). I may have performed well at high altitudes prior to my diagnosis, but I was playing a lethal game of chance with my life and my cardiologist wasn’t willing to clear me. I was given two options; quit climbing or get a procedure done to repair the hole in my heart. Without hesitation, I opted to move forward with the closure procedure and on March 8th my heart was successfully repaired. After a few months of recovery, I was back training at a high level preparing myself for the Spring Everest 2022 season. Setbacks are a part of any good adventure, and I wasn’t going to let this one squander my dreams.

This personal experience has lead me to create “Overcome Your Mountain.” A growing compilation of personal stories from amazing human beings, meant to motivate those who need a bit of help in reaching their “summit” in life. This page highlights the internal and external mountains that we are continuously climbing in everyday life.

Note: You can source more material from the authors by clicking on their photo.

the rescue of Lincoln Hall on Mount Everest by Dan Mazur

Heading toward the summit of Everest on the morning of May 26, 2006, sitting to our left, about two feet from a 10,000-foot drop was Lincoln Hall, evidently left for dead the night before. Not dead, not sleeping, but sitting cross-legged, in the process of changing his shirt. He had his down suit unzipped to the waist, his arms out of the sleeves, was wearing no hat, no gloves, no sunglasses, had no oxygen mask, regulator, ice axe, oxygen, no sleeping bag, no mattress, no food nor water bottle. ‘I imagine you’re surprised to see me here,’ Hall said. Now, this was a moment of total disbelief to us all. Here was a gentleman, apparently lucid, who had spent the night without oxygen at 8600m, without proper equipment, barely clothed. My team and I abandoned our own summit dreams only 250 meters short of the summit and brought Lincoln Hall down, ALIVE.

the descent on Mount Everest via the North Col by Indian mountaineer Parth Upadhyaya

While I was coming back down after summiting Everest, just one hour later, I saw a man die in front of me, on the second step. It just completely shook me. I continued walking because if I didn’t, I would die as well. Within 30 minutes, my health started to deteriorate to a point where I couldn’t stand up. My energy was drained and I didn’t have the power in my legs to move. I realized if I am not able to walk on my own two feet, I will die. I waited for my Sherpa who was behind me. I started to accept the outcome of death and how I was going to shed my body on this summit ridge.

While I was sitting there, a single thought came into my mind. Whatever you want to call it, God, the Universe, if you are listening to me, just give me 30 seconds with my loved ones. With my family. I felt so stupid for having wasted 24 years of my life for something in which I could have said to them in 30 seconds. But time, once gone, is gone. Everything that I thought was important in my life started to fade away, including having summited Mount Everest a 9-year long dream. That joy vanished in the face of death. Only what is truly important remained, and that was being alive. All through my life, I completely ignored the phenomenon of life. And while I was about to die, I realized how important it is, to just be alive. My Sherpa realized that it was my oxygen cylinder that was running empty. Throughout the night prior, I had checked the cylinder multiple times to see how much oxygen was remaining so I’m not sure what happened. Regardless, my Sherpa and I were able to change out the cylinder and I recovered.

In the face of death, I got a very clear insight into what is important and what is not. Being alive is important. Your goals and ambitions are important to a certain extent, but all that we consider important fades away in the face of death. Being alive is all that matters.

the decsent of Mount Everest via the South Col by Nepalese Mountaineer Prakash Raj Pandey

On the mountain, you are only a real hero when you come back safely. After successfully summiting Mount Everest, the journey back down turned fatal. My guide and I decided to bypass Camp 4 and headed straight to Camp 3 for safety reasons. Due to darkness and fatigue, we could not reach Camp 3 and were compelled to stay at Camp 4 which is located in the “Death Zone.” This is an area above 8000 meters, where oxygen is 34% the concentration it is on the ground below. My guide was concerned about the oxygen cylinders running empty, and the lack of food and drinkable water. As I sat there, a single thought crept into my mind, one should not let oneself die unless the heart stops. It was the best struggle of my life. A man should struggle to survive until they are finished. I forced myself to eat ice as water and persevered. This incident made me more confident and hopeful in life. It has taught me to be calm, disciplined, and motivated in uncomfortable situations.