Photo by Matt Hines, @in_hinesight via Instagram.
World renowned adventurer Jeff B. Evans leads his team on an expedition to reach a 21K+ summit at the top of Mera Peak in the Himalayas.
In a video on his website showcasing his work as a world-renowned corporate speaker, Jeff Evans encourages audience members to “look for opportunities to be of service.” It’s a philosophy he not only promotes, but personifies on a daily basis in his global work as an adventurer, expedition leader, humanitarian, high-altitude medic, physician assistant and philanthropist.
Having conquered many of the world’s most challenging mountain peaks, Evans parlayed his skills as a climber and his expertise in austere medicine into a 25-year career spent serving others. He has provided aid to the sick and injured in war zones, earthquake sites, and numerous other remote and treacherous locations. His adventures have been documented by CNN, ABC, The Joe Rogan Show and many others, including the recent Travel Channel television series Everest Air.
In 2001, Jeff guided the first and only blind climber (his friend Erik) to the summit of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak at over 29,000 feet elevation. The pair went on to create a nonprofit organization offering outdoor expeditions that provide transformative experiences for wounded veterans.
Jeff is the author of Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond the Summit, an autobiographical book which has been described by readers as riveting, captivating, and awe-inspiring. A second book is currently in the works.
High-altitude medic Jeff Evans sits in one of the search and rescue helicopters featured on Travel Channel's show, Everest Air.
I learned about your work from the TV show Everest Air. As a former ER nurse and paramedic, I was fascinated by the medical aspects of the show, but there was also a lot of drama and human interest. How did the show and your involvement in it come about?
I’m a PA and a friend of a friend said there was a search and rescue team forming up and there are going to be some cameras that follow them, and they need a medical liaison who can facilitate things – someone who knows Nepal, knows Everest, knows the Sherpa culture, and also knows altitude medicine. They needed a medical professional who could kind of be the spokesperson. I looked at their treatment of the show and what they were looking to do, which was to follow around a group of sherpas and follow their story. It sounded compelling and I said I would be happy to do it.
Then, I asked, “Have you considered having anybody in the back of the helicopter once the patients get loaded up?” There was radio silence for a few days and then they came back and said they would like that and asked me to be a part of it. At that point, I didn’t even realize that that would put me front and center. I just wanted to help because I know helicopters – I worked search and rescue in helicopters in Alaska for years – and I know the nuances of Nepal and so forth. It dovetailed pretty seamlessly into me being in the back of the helicopter and being, in a way, the team leader.
I got connected with some really amazing people – pilots and sherpas, as you saw. We were very indifferent to the whole TV production thing. We just knew we were there doing our jobs and that there would simply be cameras there and we would have to do some interviews. We did good work. We did 83 missions in all and we’re quite confident we saved over two dozen lives in the course of that two-month period.
It was fascinating to see how much autonomy you had treating patients and making life-and-death decisions. What was the protocol with whatever medical command you may have had there?
Internationally, especially in Nepal, there’s not as much of a hierarchy. It’s literally ‘do the best you can with what you’ve got and the personnel you have.’ As a PA here in the states, I have to operate under the auspices of my physician supervisor when I’m in the emergency department. But over there, or any time I’m international – when I was in Iraq or in Nepal after the earthquake – you’re basically ‘cowboying’ it to a certain extent. It’s the idea of Do No Harm. In Nepal, I had already developed a pretty solid relationship with the Nepali physicians’ group and the hospitals in Lukla and Kathmandu, so I communicated with them regularly. The basic premise of what I was doing was what you would do as a paramedic – stabilizing, packaging and transporting. It wasn’t super sophisticated.
Part of the real-life drama on the show was seeing the effects of those extreme altitudes, both on the helicopter’s ability to function and on the patient’s condition. It was amazing to watch how quickly someone’s condition turned around simply by bringing them to a lower elevation.
Hypoxia can cause your whole body to shut down, so to see people respond so quickly was fascinating. Helicopters save a lot of lives up there and they have for years. You drop somebody down 3,000 feet and they go from basically ‘walking towards the light’ to being ready to go play cards.
You use the term austere medicine to describe this type of wilderness medicine. What exactly is austere medicine?
I’m writing my second book right now and one of the chapters is about limited resources and needing to be malleable to the environment. That’s what I think austere medicine is – being malleable to your environment, using the limited resources you have, and a lot of duct tape and bailing wire. It’s real primal medicine.
In the emergency department, I’ve got the [patient’s] chief complaint and I order the typical recipe of diagnostic tests; I go chart it, and then I come back and read the tests. I go tell the patient what I’m going to do and occasionally do some interventional thing, and that’s it. When you don’t have diagnostics and all you have is your hands, your ears and your eyes, everything changes. It requires a different optic for medicine and I love that.
On Travel Channel's show Everest Air, Sherpas carry a woman by stretcher to be flown by helicopter to Everest Base Camp and evaluated by high-altitude medic Jeff Evans.
How did you get into this type of work?
I’ve always been kind of a dirtbag (laughs). I lived in my van for years, being a climbing bum and happily so. I was guiding on Denali in Alaska for years and I knew back in the mid ‘90s that I wanted to do something more than just be a mountain guide, and medicine was always really fascinating to me. I was an EMT and on one of my Denali expeditions in ’96 or ’97, one of my clients was a PA. I spent three weeks guiding him up Denali – we summitted – and the whole time he was describing what he does and what the schooling is like. I came down off that trip thinking, “This is it; this what I am going to do."
It took me a year to get in and when I got into PA school, I sucked it up and went to Philadelphia to get my degree and my training, but I was still that dirtbag: a guy who was used to living in pretty rough conditions, but now I have the medical training. I found myself doing emergency room work to pay the bills, but when I really enjoyed medicine was practicing in the dirt – at disaster sites and on mountains – and I found myself constantly going to these places.
As a result, I became fairly marketable when it comes to going to places where the gear is limited, resources are limited, the showers are limited. It takes a certain constitution to wake up in the dirt over and over and over again, to eat marginal food, and still be able to implement pretty high-level medicine.
Tell me about some of the places you’ve practiced this type of specialized medicine.
I’ve been the medical officer on countless expeditions all over the world. I got connected with an organization called NYC Medics [which rapidly deploys mobile medical teams to remote areas of disaster zones and humanitarian emergencies]. I went to Nepal with them after the earthquake and spent a month on the ground there, which was really amazing. I went with them on a task for the World Health Organization to Iraq to embed with the Iraqi special operations forces. We were the trauma stabilization point and I was on the ground with them in Mosul for a month. That was one of the more intense medical missions I’ve ever had.
There’s a video on your website that highlights your work as a speaker and there’s a quick image of you being interviewed on CNN with a chyron stating, “Life and Death in Mosul – How Isis Tracked Down a Secret Medical Clinic.” What happened there?
These guys found out where we were and they came after us and started gridding us out and dropping RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] on us. It was a junk show for sure, but everything turned out okay. It was a positive experience in the end, but it was fraught with anxiety and a lot of profound penetrating trauma. If you listen to the Joe Rogan show, check out episode 977; I go into long detail about the Iraq situation and I do tell that story.
Photo © Jeff B. Evans.
Physician assistant Jeff Evans provides humanitarian aid and medical care to a young boy as part of a NYC Medics mobile medical team.
(End, Part 1)
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Raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Jeff B. Evans has always followed the call of the excitement and wildness of outdoor adventure and exploration. Jeff is a proud member of the prestigious Explorers Club based in New York City, the published author of Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond The Summit, a practicing Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant and appears in three award-winning documentaries: Farther Than the Eye Can See (2003), Blindsight (2006); and High Ground (2012). As a highly sought after speaker with over 20 years delivering engaging and impactful keynotes to hundreds of clients, Jeff has made appearances at dozens of Fortune 500 companies around the world. Jeff takes the audience on a journey to high peaks around the globe, detailing his exciting endeavors as mountain guide, adventurer and philanthropist. These experiences have allowed Jeff to hone his skills of servant leadership, teamwork, communication and handling adversity which he shares in a way that is applicable to everyone in their business and personal lives. In Jeff's autobiography, Mountain Vision: Lessons Beyond The Summit, he recounts the stories from his adventurous life. In each of the chapters, readers will find vivid descriptions of locations around the globe, heart stopping action and entertaining life situations. Along the way, readers will pick up strategies for effective leadership and teamwork learned from decades of leading expeditions to many of the world's most challenging locations. To see more of Jeff's writing, and catch up on his latest adventures, please visit his blog here. For speaking events please reach out at www.jeffbevans.com and follow Jeff on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.