Ellen Gallant treats survivors of an avalanche on Mount Everest for a second time

By Cathy Free
April 27, 2015 06:25 PM
Courtesy of Arlo Gagestein

For the second year in a row, Ellen Gallant, a Utah doctor, has had to put her Mount Everest summit dreams on hold to treat survivors of an avalanche on the mountain.

But a close friend says he would expect nothing less of the Park City cardiologist and climbing enthusiast, who left for Nepal on March 27 and was getting acclimated to the high elevation when Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal triggered an avalanche on the world’s highest peak, killing 18 people and injuring dozens more.

“She’s such a caring person – I’m sure her first thought was to do whatever she could do to save people,” Arlo Gagestein, Gallant’s personal trainer in Ogden, Utah, tells PEOPLE. “She didn’t get to summit last year because of an avalanche on April 18, when she was at base camp. Now, a year later, here she is again.

“But Ellen is very physically fit and determined,” he says, “and I know she’ll get through this. She’s always been very driven.”

Gagestein, 37, hasn’t been able to reach Gallant since the avalanche hit, but says that she was acclimating well to the high elevation and was hoping to attempt a climb up Everest in early May. She and two others from Utah on the mountain, Randall Ercanbrack and his daughter, Haley, were all reported safe after the earthquake, according to a Utah TV station.

The base camp doctor for Ercanbrack’s group, Marisa Eve Girawong, was among those killed in the avalanche. Ellen Gallant, who was at base camp with a different group of climbers, “is no doubt grateful to be alive,” says her trainer.

“She’s had the goal to summit Everest for 12 years,” says Gagestein, “and I’m sure she feels lucky that she’ll get another chance. She’s still on the mountain, helping people, which is exactly what she would want to be doing.”

Gallant said that she was outside her tent when she saw a huge cloud of snow coming down, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I ran into the tent, threw myself on the floor,” she said. “When the vibration stopped, I went out and radioed over to the medical tent. They asked me to take care of head injuries.”

Working through the night with another doctor to help nine injured climbers, Gallant said she was unable to save one victim, who died as she desperately tried to revive him. “His blood pressure had fallen,” she said. “There was nothing we could do. When you go to medical school, you learn to focus on the task at hand. But now that things have settled down, it’s hit me hard.”

Gallant, who trained for this year’s expedition by swinging sledge hammers and carrying 130-pound tires, also survived a 2014 avalanche on Everest that killed 16 people.

“I don’t know yet whether her team will be continuing their expedition,” says Gagestein. “Ellen is in phenomenal shape and I know she was hopeful of summiting. But all that matters now is that she is okay.”