In 2018, Eric Donoho, a sales associate with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis, was hired as the photographer for a private expedition on Mount Everest. What Donoho didn’t know at the time was that this adventure would save his life—again.
Years earlier, Donoho, a military veteran, was in a difficult place in his life and attempted to commit suicide. “I had PTSD from [serving in battle], and I wasn’t ready to truly confront it,” Donoho says. “My wife was relocated to Indiana, and we bought a house. The house was a wreck, and I’m a contractor and I missed all the signs. My wife and I weren’t getting along. The house had a number of expensive problems that needed to be fixed immediately. It all kind of just came to a head in December 2015.”
After attempting suicide, Donoho called his platoon sergeant, Brent Myers, and confided in him. Myers was the only person who knew, and together, the two came up with a plan to get Donoho the help he needed. He enrolled in a program called No Barriers Warriors. The program used mountain climbing as a means to teach the skills necessary to help veterans reintegrate into society. “It models boot camp in its structure but teaches you about the gray areas of life. You learn how to communicate and interact in a world that’s very different from what you got used to in the military,” Donoho explains.
The program gave him the opportunity to rebuild his life from the foundation up. He met people who inspired him and found new hope for his life. “By December 2017, I had gone from wanting to end my life to reaching major goals,” Donoho recalls. But then, Myers killed himself just three weeks after Christmas. “At that time, he was the fifteenth person I’d known who had taken their own life,” Donoho says. “When I lost Brent, I thought, ‘Well, if he can’t make it, how am I going to make it?’”
Donoho says he started spiraling, but someone he met while in the No Barriers Warriors program—a blind man by the name of Eric W.—helped him change course. “He said to me, ‘You have to stand up and take all of that adversity and use it as fuel to do something good. When you do that, it changes the ripple effect of how that event effected your life. It changes the way your energy moves throughout the world.’”
Inspired, Donoho went to Nepal with all of his camera equipment, ready to shoot a private expedition on Mount Everest. The expedition wasn’t just about a trek up the world’s highest mountain, though. It was an opportunity to learn about the Nepalese people as well. “We started out at an orphanage,” Donoho says. “We learned about the people of Nepal and how they lived. In Nepal, if a child has a physical disability, these families literally can’t afford to take care of them. They don’t have the money or resources to help their own children.”
Donoho says he knew, standing in the orphanage and learning about the children, that this was his chance to give back. He thought he’d donate clothes, money or food, but when he asked the orphanage caretaker what was most needed, the answer was wheelchairs. “I thought, ‘Cool, I can just raise the money, and we can buy the wheelchairs.’ But then I learned that there is no place in Nepal to buy wheelchairs.”
Donoho calculated that he needed to raise around $11,000 in the time he was on the expedition—10 days—in order to be able to deliver the wheelchairs to the orphanage. “I hedged for a minute because I don’t make promises I can’t keep,” he says. “I thought about it for a while, though, and I knew I had to do this. I can’t explain it, but I knew.”
He got the other people on his private expedition involved—Heather Thompson, star of “The Real Housewives of New York,” and mountaineer Jeff Evans, who both made personal donations and reached out to their networks to find other donors. “We raised the money in time and partnered with Reach Out & Care Wheels in Bozeman, Mont. They shipped the wheelchairs and helped find a fitter. They flew the fitter and an engineer out to Nepal.”
With another veteran at his side, Donoho put the wheelchairs together onsite at the orphanage. The fitter and engineer trained local Nepalese residents how to work on, repair and fit the wheelchairs for the children. “That day, eight kids got the gift of mobility. Seeing the excitement on them and their parents’ faces … I’ve never known a feeling like that,” Donoho says.
Since then, Donoho has partnered with The Wheelchair Foundation to continue to provide wheelchairs to children in need in Nepal. He’s helped provide over 200 wheelchairs, with another 250 in the works. Donoho makes sure to bring other veterans into the work when he can. “I’ve seen first-hand the kind of healing that can happen in this kind of work,” he said. “I want to make it available to other veterans.”