Glenn Nyberg leaned back in a dark wood chair, dressed casually in plaid shorts and a gray U.S. Open T-shirt.
His blue eyes filled with tears and his voice caught while talking about the people who saved his life and his ongoing effort to help them, all while dealing with his own struggles with brain cancer.
“Ask Camille to join in anytime, my brain isn’t working very well,” Nyberg said of his wife.
Looking over at her husband, Camille Nyberg smiled.
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“Kind people just touched your heart, so you knew you wanted to give back in some way,” she said.
Glenn Nyberg climbed Tibet’s Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest mountain in the world, three years ago. However, he was suffering from frostbite and a bleeding stomach ulcer that nearly killed him.
Dan Mazur, Nyberg’s expedition leader, assigned sherpas to help carry him down the mountain. He was transported by motorcycle and Jeep to a hospital in Kathmandu, where he underwent five blood transfusions.
Once he landed in Wichita, Nyberg’s frostbitten fingers and toes were amputated. His ulcer infected an artery, causing it to burst, and he went through more blood transfusions.
In 2016, Nyberg flew back to Kathmandu to thank the doctors and nurses who cared for him and to assess damage caused by a 2015 earthquake that wrecked Nepal and killed more than 8,500 people.
Jangbu, the lead sherpa during his climb, took Nyberg to his hill village of Patle, home to 4,000 people.
Seeing the wreckage, Nyberg knew what he had to do: build a clinic and schools in Patle.
Fundraising and work on the project commenced, and it seemed as though hardship was behind the Nybergs.
Until May 2, when Nyberg, 59, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
A bump in the road
Sitting across from him on a large brown leather couch, Camille Nyberg weaves together bits of her husband’s life he can’t remember.
In April, he sent an e-mail with the subject “Patle update,” thanking donors. The e-mail reads: “Great news here. Thanks to you the project is FULLY FUNDED and construction has begun on the new Health Post … I will be returning to Nepal June 3.”
A month later, Nyberg sent “Patle School Update #2,” with a different tone. He discussed the two surgeries he had undergone to remove the two tumors found in his brain, and his upcoming chemotherapy and radiation.
“Please know that, my health notwithstanding, I am still fully committed to seeing this project through and beyond,” he wrote.
He and his wife have postponed traveling to Patle until December.
Nyberg said that while he would like to think his cancer hasn’t affected the project, it has. He would be in Patle now if things had gone as planned.
“I didn’t anticipate having brain cancer,” he said
Nature conspired with Nyberg’s ill health to delay the project. It’s now monsoon season in Nepal, and construction must wait until the rains stop. Work on the primary school will begin in September and take three months to complete.
When the Nybergs arrive in Patle, the sherpas will be gone. December is climbing season, and they will be working.
Solace can be found in the progress already made. The clinic is almost done.
“It was the most important, most urgent need, because it had fallen down and was kind of rebuilt from the earthquake, but it was rebuilt with very poor stone and is basically unsafe,” Nyberg said.
There is money earmarked to try to rebuild Nepal; however, that money is reaching only certain segments of the country.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 80 percent of Nepal is Hindu; Patle is Buddhist. And non-Hindus are not getting the funds to rebuild, Nyberg said.
“We decided to step in and begin the effort to help the people that helped me and that saved my life,” Nyberg said.
Earlier this year, he put together presentations, talking about the need in Patle to various groups. Mazur, the expedition leader, came to help.
“The response was overwhelming,” Nyberg said.
The project includes the clinic, a primary school and a secondary school. Between 90 and 100 people have contributed funds. Most are friends around the world who have been touched by his story. The money still trickles in.
Thus far, they’ve raised about $100,000, which is above their original estimated budget. However, costs, especially fuel costs, have gone up since the project began.
Still, the people of Patle are “blown away” with the follow-through in helping their recovery.
“I think that they’re so excited because I think that they’ve been let down in the past by the government in Nepal,” Nyberg said.
The project has helped the Nybergs make sense of what happened to Glenn in 2014.
“This is kind of what has brought him to this project, is having to go through all that experience and that something good out of it is going to come,” Camille Nyberg said.
To the Nybergs, the school’s physical structure isn’t the only important priority. They are looking for teachers to teach English, which will open up opportunities for the children in the community.
“If they can learn English, that’s a game changer,” Nyberg said.
They are also looking to implement technology in the classroom. The headmaster of the school has the only computer in Patle, and it doesn’t have internet access.
“I just think education is the key to opportunity,” Nyberg said.
Despite Nyberg’s two surgeries, chemo, radiation and infusions of an experimental treatment, the Nybergs are keeping in contact with Patle.
“Just about every day we’re in communication with what’s going on back there,” Nyberg said.
They are hoping to meet with the leadership in the village in December. The community knows about Nyberg’s diagnosis and has been reaching out to show support.
“He got e-mails from one of the doctors and one of the nurses at the (Kathmandu) hospital as well as from Jangbu,” Camille Nyberg said.
The Nybergs are now talking about ways to honor those who have helped make the project happen. It will most likely be something small and special, to keep the emphasis on the community.
The community will need continued support to maintain the infrastructure put in place by the Nybergs. Glenn Nyberg’s eyes well up with tears again as he speaks of those who will take the project into the future.
“It’s not the situation where you can just build stuff and walk away,” Nyberg said.
Supriya Sridhar: 316-268-6246, @Supriyasridhar_