A Canadian Mount Everest expedition co-sponsored by several IT companies ended in tragedy last week when University of Ottawa professor Sean Egan collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack while on his way down the mountain.

Egan, a professor of human kinetics, was 63.

“He

was quite a character. He touched a lot of people,” said Terry Kell, president of Kanatek Technologies of Ottawa, one of the sponsors. Kell accompanied Egan and his team to Nepal but returned to Canada before the incident.

“He was very positive, always looking at the bright side – as he would say,” said Kell. “He practiced what he preached, but he wouldn’t ask any of his students to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He was just a blast to be around.”

Egan was leading a 17-member team to Everest, including researchers from Hewlett Packard, which was also a sponsor, the University of Ottawa and Toronto’s Ryerson University. To prepare for the climb, he scaled Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua in January. This was his third trip to Everest and his first summit attempt.

Egan, who was attempting to become the oldest Canadian to summit Everest, had been suffering from a respiratory infection since arriving at base camp. He sought medical attention and received medication to treat the infection. When his condition didn’t improve, Egan decided to head down the mountain to seek further medical advice. He collapsed and died in Dughla just before noon on April 29.

“It was a huge shock,” said Kell, Egan’s friend and neighbour of 15 years.

“He was very well prepared. He had been training several years for this. He was not a person to take unnecessary risks. He was a professional and he knew he was not healing quickly enough, so he was making the decisions to keep going down to lower levels where there’s a higher percentage of oxygen,” Kell added.

Egan was a staunch advocate for physical education in schools and promoted the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle to children and adults alike. On April 11, Egan and Kell spoke to school children across Canada via satellite phone. Egan conveyed his message of health and fitness, while Kell spoke about the technology used to broadcast the telecast.

According to Kell, Kanatek would not have sponsored the event without the support of its employees, who believed in Egan’s message of healthy living.

“(The expedition) had nothing to do with putting Kanatek’s flag on the summit,” he said. “It really had to do with supporting what the research was all about and what he was trying to do and say – which he had already done in my mind, whether he made it to the summit or not. It would have been nice, but it was not what this was all about.”

Born and raised in Ireland, Egan had been a professor of human kinetics at the University of Ottawa since 1977.

Egan’s two grown children left for Nepal on Monday to arrange for his body to be returned to Canada. Kell said funeral arrangements should be finalized by the end of the week.

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