Mt. Everest: Rescue in the Death Zone

Mt. Everest was a collaboration with premiere Canadian guiding company, Peak Freaks.  Our successful summit bid included two rescues in the Death Zone and made international news in Men’s Journal, Outside, Explorer’s Web, etc.  In the end, adventures aren’t about conquering big oceans or big mountains.  They’re about braving a journey of the human spirit.

I have enduring respect for Tim & Becky Rippel’s Peak Freaks Expeditions and the sherpas who risked their lives not only for the summit, but to save other climbers’ lives. I was fortunate to have medical training and rescue skills to contribute to the team but it is one’s character that is tested in extreme environments. Our team pulled off what many said was impossible. Instead of stepping over 2 different climbers in peril and returning to base camp with our successful summits in hand, we short-roped those in distress back to safety. 36 hours post-summit with no oxygen while assembling rescue supplies in Camp IV (26,000 ft / 7925 m) I finally hit the wall. Rolling up a sleeping bag for a downed climber still stuck on the South Col suddenly became one of the hardest tasks of my life. My body was screaming for me to surrender to sleep inside the safety of my tent. No one would blame me if this was my limit. Our team had done more than enough. But my teammates – guides and sherpas alike – were cut from a different cloth. They were relying on me to keep going, to finish the job no matter how small it might seem. It may sound like a terrible predicament, but it was one of the best times of my life. After surviving the night below the Balcony the downed climber stumbled back into Camp IV leaning heavily on his rescuers. The first thing he said was, “That sleeping bad saved my life.” I smiled, pointed to the sherpas and guides and replied, “No, these guys did.”

*Side note: Many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama and learn firsthand about the struggle for Tibetan self-determination. Speaking out on this issue was also a big part of my climb.


Flight Medic & Fire Captain

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None of us are as strong as all of us.

I have worked as an EMS professional since 1995. Every patient contact is a chance to make someone’s bad day, a little better.

Teamwork is the backbone of EMS & fire service. Whether you’re responding to a life-threatening emergency or embarking on a creative venture, the power of collaboration is our greatest strength.

While serving with the brave and skilled Inuit population on the North Slope of Alaska, I shot some clips on an iPhone 4. It was almost an afterthought.  Watching it years later, I’m in awe. Someone needs to make a movie about this community.

Stressful is an understatement. We had lear jets landing on gravel runways in blizzard conditions. We were the sole medical officers on board, keeping critical patients stable for 3+ hours until they could get to an OR in Anchorage. (Never lost one.) We had expanded scope that included chest tube placement, blood transfusions and mechanical ventilation. What a wild ride. I don’t miss the daily life and death predicaments. But I miss the people I worked with. To this day, they are unsung heroes busy saving lives without accolades and proper recognition.

Humanitarian Work

Disaster Relief in Haiti.  Anti-human trafficking in Thailand.  Social entrepreneurship in Honduras. One thing I’ve learned in my years working with 501(c)(3) organizations is that charity alone cannot resolve massive global problems like poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. This is why I’m a proponent of the social entrepreneurship framework. Generous donations may alleviate immediate suffering but they rarely alter the underlying crisis. To create equity, society needs to replace good intentions with great ideas that spur systemic opportunity. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Sometimes it feels like a drop in a bucket but trying to make a lasting difference is always rewarding. Here’s some projects I’ve worked on that help me focus my creativity on being an agent of positive change:

DISASTER RELIEF, HAITI:

Published article: January, 2010: The sunrise in Haiti was especially hot. Our team of 39 of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and humanitarians pitched our tents at the New Life Children’s home, an orphanage just a few minutes’ drive from the Port-au-Prince airport. The longtime director of the orphanage told me about the heartbreak of raising funds to educate the children, only to see the 7.0 earthquake that occurred on January 12 result in the cancellation of school for the year. The uniforms, books, buildings, and many of the teachers were gone.

As the saying goes, “With each sunrise we start anew.” How desperately that adage was needed here in post-quake Haiti. Fortunately, because my learning technologies degree is centered on concepts in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, my professors allowed me to miss a week of schooling to join my church and use my skills as a videographer and paramedic to assist with crisis work such as distributing medical supplies and rebuilding. Just one month before the earthquake I had driven to Bakersfield in California to study one of my professor’s projects called Haitian Creations—an e-commerce site that empowers Haitian women by selling their handcrafted purses online. Now, unbelievably, here I was in Haiti taking my Action Research, part of my academic program, one step further.

The morning sun shed light on the magnitude of the horror. Though it was two weeks after the earthquake, devastation was everywhere. There were so many people who needed critical assistance. In the outlying communities we found patients with head trauma, broken bones, burns, lacerations, and severe infections. Many of the children were malnourished, dehydrated, and orphaned. The media footage of rioting and angry mobs that we watched before our departure was unseen once we were on the ground in Haiti. The reality was that everywhere our team went, whether we were dishing out prayer, medicine, or food, the communities responded with a heartfelt, “Merci.”

My goal in obtaining this degree is to research ways that we can harness technology to create a more compassionate society. The challenge in Haiti was an opportunity for me to make a difference. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of the job and powerless to effect the change I envision. But, as Abraham Linclon once said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” With each new sunrise, my hope for a better tomorrow is renewed.

AUTISM AWARENESS: HAWAII:

When two surfing legends learned that their friend, famed underwater cinematographer Don King (RIDING GIANTS; LORDS OF DOGTOWN), was making a film to heighten awareness of autism, they pledged to help in a manner both memorable and unique. As recounted in this documentary by King, athletes raised funds by embarking on a grueling bike and paddleboard journey of more than 500 miles across the Hawaiian Island chain.”

PANDYTOWN YOUTH CENTER, HONDURAS:

Economically, it’s a tough time for grassroots philanthropy.  But sustainable community development doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why I’m proud to have worked with Pastor Hank Stanley on Roatan for over two decades. Our collaboration seeks to equip at-risk youth, empower women, protect the environment and expand social services on the Bay Islands of Honduras.

ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING, THAILAND:

Visiting Thailand on behalf of Heart Ventures was a transformative experience. Afterwards, my good friend Matt Elam and I rode our bicycles across the USA to raise awareness and funds for an orphanage in Chiang Rai. The orphanage, called the House of Miracles, rescues children from poverty, drugs, and child prostitution. Below is an introspective video I posted on the subject.

Independent Films

Internationally published author, photographer and award-winning filmmaker.

  • Summited Mt. Everest as a climber, filmmaker and EMT for Peak Freaks film.
  • Writer/Director/Producer on mission critical humanitarian projects covering anti-human trafficking in Thailand, environmental protection in the Arctic & cancer awareness in the US.
  • Director surf unit on PERFECT WAVE, 2014.
  • Associate Producer, DAWN PATROL, 2014.
  • Writer/Director TARZEN DIET, Honolulu International Film Festival Accolade Award.
  • Writer/Editor WATER MAN, Best Cinematography at the Surfer Poll Awards.
  • Writer/Director 35mm indie feature, BEAUTIFUL AMERICANS, San Diego Film Festival.
  • Short Film THE CYCLE selected at Telluride Film Festival.
  • The Changers “Dream wedding” for Jessica Jimenez, an inspiring human being who was battling Stage IV Breast Cancer.