Taking friendships to a new height

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After recently finding friendship at the launch of The Passion Project – Healthcare Heroes, Jo Milne and Matt Eagles showed typical resilience and determination to add to their incredible list of achievements by summiting the 1101ft of Loughrigg Fell together with fellow hero Steve Watts.

During a conversation, Steve invited them both to come to his home in the Lake District and undertake the challenge under his expert guidance, while also sharing his passion and love for one of the most beautiful parts of the country. All three heroes are incredibly ambitious and as a result motivated each other to go the extra mile, showing both strength and determination as they made the ascent together.

Jo Milne was born deaf and by her 20’s discovered her eyesight was failing too. It was then she was diagnosed with Usher syndrome. She had never let her condition hinder her and became actively involved in improving services for people with disabilities in her teens. In 2014 she underwent surgery to help her hear for the first time in her life. It was a success, and opened up a whole new world to her. Her sight still continues to get worse but Jo is determined to make as many visual memories as she can.

“My ever decreasing sight means I have to get out and live life to the full.” When she was outside Steve’s house walking in the garden, she said to Matt “I can hear the birds singing!!! I’ve never heard that before it’s so beautiful.”

Matt Eagles has lived with Parkinson’s disease since he was eight years old. He has tried many different medications over the years to help control his symptoms but as they became more troublesome and difficult to control he was given the option of having pioneering brain surgery eleven years ago called Deep Brain Stimulation. Matt now has two electrodes implanted in his brain connected by thin wires to a brain pacemaker attached to the pectoral muscles of his chest to help him regain some control of the disabling symptoms. Matt’s tenacity and happy demeanour means he will take on any challenge with a smile.

“I’ve never at any point thought I’ve got Parkinson’s so I can’t do this.” Which is testament to Matt’s tenacity by jumping out of planes, abseiling and was an official football photographer at the London 2012 Olympics. Looking back on the climb, Matt said “the whole experience was amazing and not something I expected from being a Healthcare Hero.”

Steve Watts was in his sixties when he became the first person to run the Everest Marathon with a pacemaker. An avid fell runner and lover of the great outdoors, Steve’s passion and desire to help others is second to none and after his son had been treated at Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, he went ahead and raised over one million pounds to help buy a scanner which would help towards treating others.

After falling ill himself, Steve underwent surgery to have a pacemaker fitted. Spurred on by his surgery, he travelled to Nepal with his brother to fulfil a lifelong dream to summit Kalapatar nr Everest in the Himalayas. Unfortunately their trek was interrupted when 16 Sherpas were tragically killed in the worst avalanche ever to hit the region. Seeing the bodies unloaded from helicopters deeply moved Steve and after thinking his journey was finished, the determination shown by the remaining Sherpas meant they were able to complete their journey. Steve was so grateful he was determined to return the following year to raise money for the families of those killed and he duly did with his son Matthew and ran and complete the Everest marathon!

After guiding Jo and Matt to the summit of Loughrigg Fell, Steve said, “If I can inspire people to get out and into the great outdoors and experience life then I’ll be a happy man.”

Between the three of them their list of accomplishments is only becoming more incredible as they continue to defy the odds.