In Memoriam

Remembering a PA at the Top of the World

By Meredith WiseJuly 13, 2016

Credit: Nick Pedersen (nickpedersenphoto.com)

Long-time PA educator Don Pedersen and his son were on a special mission when they headed to the base camp of Mt. Everest earlier this year.

Eve Girawong, PA-C, was highly regarded as a caring, compassionate PA by those who knew her. A graduate of the Malcolm X College PA Program and Saint Francis University with experience in wilderness and outdoor medicine, Eve had been functioning as the team doctor for a Seattle-based mountaineering group on Mt. Everest when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake triggered an avalanche.

University of Utah PA educator Don Pedersen, PhD, PA-C, and his wife Kathy had been in Nepal just one night before the earthquake with six PA students and another faculty member, all of whom survived. The team had been in the rural Annapurna region visiting villages to work with Nepali health assistants, which are similar to US PAs.

Credit: Nick Pedersen (nickpedersenphoto.com)

Pedersen and his wife only learned of the earthquake, and Eve’s death, when they arrived home. Two weeks later, Pedersen returned to the area to help with the disaster relief efforts — only to be shaken by a second earthquake of 7.4 magnitude.

It was during this time that the plan to honor Eve began to come together. “Eve was part of our PA family and died doing what she loved,” said Pedersen. “Both Ted Wendell, of the A.T. Still PA program, and I, while doing relief work with Project Hope in Kathmandu, felt the PA profession should honor her in some way. Ted was unable to join me on the trip, but he was instrumental in making this happen.”

With plans for the memorial in place, Pedersen returned again to Nepal in April for his second rotation at the Manmohan Memorial Teaching Hospital. Prior to starting his work, he scheduled a hike to Everest Base Camp with his son, Nick. During their trek, the pair planned to stop at a memorial that had been erected by Eve’s family and friends in Thukla Pass, a site 16,000 feet up honoring those who have lost their lives on the mountain. There, he would place a cast-iron plaque in Eve’s memory.

On the way to the base camp, Pedersen noticed a fellow hiker wearing a Brigham Young University hat — the rival university to his own — and struck up a conversation.

“As with many things in life that happen without rhyme or reason — and perhaps with divine intervention — we had a remarkable coincidence on the trail,” Pedersen said of the encounter.

The man Pedersen met happened to be hiking with Madison Mountaineering — the team that Eve had been supporting as a medical provider during the avalanche.

Pedersen and the Madison Mountaineering team soon reached the same village together. With the mountaineering team were others who also had been hiking with Eve when the fatal avalanche occurred.

The group continued on together, reaching the monument the next day for a solemn service. The hikers placed prayer flags at the site and had a moment of quiet reflection.

Everest_Memorial30
Credit: Nick Pedersen (nickpedersenphoto.com)

“With the help of our guide Mingma Sherpa and another guide from Madison Mountaineering, we fixed our plaque on the back of Eve’s monument, so as not to disturb the magnificence of what had been erected in her honor,” said Pedersen.

The monument faces Ama Dabalm, a mountain opposite Everest that is a favorite view of many hikers. The plaque’s inscription reads:

EVE GIRAWONG
LOVE IS PATIENT
LOVE IS KIND
LOVE NEVER FAILS
DEC. 24, 1986 – APR. 25, 2015
NEPAL EARTHQUAKE

“Eve’s monument is truly awe-inspiring in its powerful simplicity,” said Pedersen. “The reverence for our simple event, which was a remarkable experience, brought tears and filled us with humility – for life and for unpredictable circumstances.”

Pedersen has written a comprehensive account of his trip to Everest, which is scheduled to be published in JAAPA later this year.

Meredith Wise

Meredith Wise is the manager of communications for the Physician Assistant Education Association. She has a background in communications and joined PAEA in 2016.