Climbing closer to Heaven

17th December 2018

A grieving Northumberland father has just returned from an Everest base camp challenge in memory of the son he lost to meningitis two years ago

Everest base camp in memory blog

Paul Pawson, of Choppington, wanted ‘to get as close to heaven as possible’ on the challenge to feel closer to his 20-year-old son Ryan. He took a banner with him reading ‘Dad’s Trek for Ryan’ to unveil when he reached base camp.

We have supported the family since Ryan’s death and Paul was keen to raise awareness of the devastating disease and funds for us to continue our fight. His efforts have so far raised £2,600 and he now wants everybody who reads about his challenge to donate £1 towards our ongoing work. To contribute visit

Hadn’t wanted to come with us

Paul was in Las Vegas when Ryan became ill in October 2016. He told us, “It was the first holiday that my partner and I had gone on without Ryan. It was my partner Linsey’s 40th birthday and we had five days in Las Vegas. Our son was a ‘strapping big lad’ at 20 years old, it was the first holiday that he hadn’t wanted to come away with us."

“To be honest, (even before everything that was about to happen) I didn’t really enjoy the trip, and we were just leaving the hotel to come home when I got a phone call off my brother in law telling me that Ryan wasn’t very well and that he had been rushed to hospital with meningitis."

“We jumped in a taxi and got to the airport as fast as we could, but we couldn’t get an earlier flight and it was going to take us 27.5 hours to get home. I was going up the escalator to check in my bags when my brother rang again and told me that Ryan had passed away. They had wanted to put a catheter in him to drain the fluid, which Ryan didn’t want, so they had to sedate him to help him with his breathing and when they tried he ended up having three massive heart attacks, one after another, and he died. That’s when I received the phone call on the escalator."

Received no support at all

“The first thing I did when I got home was go and see Ryan in the Chapel of Rest. To be honest I didn’t have much in the way of communication with the hospital about what had happened. I received no support at all. Nobody really sat down and talked to me or helped me. The only bit of support I received was when Steve Dayman (founder of Meningitis Now, who also lost his son to the disease) showed up to my house."

“He was the only person that sat down with us to explain what meningitis is. I found that very helpful because I knew my son had died but I didn’t know what meningitis was. When people asked me what had happened I wanted to be able to tell them."

“I was in a daze at the time and it was nice to talk to someone who had experienced this too and could tell us more information about the disease. Ryan was gone and life was never going to be the same again but I started to ask myself the question, @What would Ryan want me to do”?"

Strength to tackle Everest

“Starting to think as Ryan would actually gave me the strength to tackle something like Everest and that is exactly what I decided to do. I paid for the challenge myself from the £1 coins that I had been saving up (I had not spent one since the new £1 coin changeover)."

“The day I set off to do the challenge I was petrified, and nothing really scares me! I am not super fit and some of the fittest people that I met on the challenge couldn’t do it, but to be honest for me it was my emotions that worried me."

“"Why Everest?" I was asked over and over, and my reason was to get as close to Heaven as possible. I needed to feel closer to my son. I also wanted to do it myself – not to be taken up by helicopter. I had a banner made before I went saying ‘Dad’s Trek for Ryan’ showing his photo and the logo of Meningitis Now."

One step forward and I will finish it 

“On day two I honestly thought I was going to die. I was on the mountain and I had to stop. I was in so much pain. I was aching and couldn’t breathe because of the altitude. I just couldn’t move my legs any more and I was standing on a rock. There was a rock in front of me, above me and behind me. Something just said in my brain STOP, just STOP, and I stopped. I can still visualise these rocks and I said to myself if I take one step back I’m finished, if I take one step forward I will finish it. And without thinking I stepped forward and from that moment I never stopped."

“That night the Sherpa said to me that because I have felt bad lower down the mountain but still at high altitude, I would sleep that night and wake up feeling better and like a different man, and just like he said I did."

“The Sherpas would carry our sleeping bags etc. but I didn’t let anyone carry my banner. I kept that with me at all times and I wanted to carry Ryan to the top. We would stay together. I wanted to physically push myself as close to my son as I could and telling myself that I was nearly there kept me going. I could have chosen any other challenge, but I wanted Everest because of the height to be closer to Ryan. The moment you see Everest it is amazing, it is incredible, just beautiful."

Ryan was my strength

“People say you find the strength you need to just do it and Ryan was my strength. My mates also got behind me but in their own way of telling me that I couldn’t do it as they knew that would push me harder to prove them wrong. They made me laugh at times, which helped relieve the emotional drain."

“You are trekking and thinking all the time, you are alone with your thoughts. When I was by myself I would just sit and scratch Ryan’s initials in the rocks or I would see a wild dog and give it something to eat and tell it that it was off Ryan. I did little things like this to pass the time. I was thinking of him always. I wanted to take his photo from my bedside table so that I could have it with me on this journey, but I was frightened that I would lose my luggage, so I didn’t take it. Instead I have a picture of him on my phone and I would use this photo of him as my light to see in the dark as there was no electricity on the mountain."

“When I got to the top I couldn’t control my emotions. I felt, in the only way that I can describe it, as, ‘not empty’. I felt close to Ryan, he was definitely with me, and had been waiting for me to reach the top. However, funny to say, but I got the feeling like he was happy I had reached the top but just so he could send me straight back down again. It was very strange. Everyone in the group knew why I was doing it. I was the only one that had lost a child, which is the worst thing ever. I got a lot of support off the group. To be honest we carried each other to the top and I have made some friends for life."

“I was presented with a medal and scarf, which I now hang in Ryan’s bedroom at home. It was such an emotional rollercoaster, and a lot harder to do than I thought it would be. It was Ryan that gave me the inner strength to do it."

Don’t want a pat on the back

“I want people to understand why I did this! I don’t want the cuddles and the well done pat on the back. I am doing it to raise a pound off everyone so that I can help raise awareness. After all, I have only put one foot in front of the other. The challenge is for those kids losing limbs and confined to a wheelchair. I want to support them and help the charity in their aim to achieve their vision that ‘one day no-one will lose their life to meningitis’. I see the real problem and I really want other people to as well."

“I now understand why I had the feeling that Ryan was sending me straight back down again and that is for me to help. Therefore, I want to raise as much awareness as possible. I want to reach as many people as I can. This is only the start for me and my involvement with the charity. I want to use my story to get as many people involved to help as I can."

“These big challenges are important to me. I need to feel like I am trying to do something to help save other people’s lives, especially the kids that are dying or being disabled because of this horrendous disease. So, I will continue my story and will not stop helping. Everest this year, maybe the Sahara Desert next?”

If you would like to donate to Paul's fundraising you can do so here.

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