On Eric Pilon-Bignell’s 35th birthday, he lost his father to a stroke.

“For me, this is something I’ve accepted I’ll never fully recover from,” he says. “The strength my mother, brothers, and sisters have shown since helps me see the impact my father has left on the world.”

Eric’s father was his role model, mentor, and hero. He admired his patience and selflessness. Like many whose lives have been touched by a brain disease or illness, Eric wanted to learn more about the complexity of the brain. Despite his own research and conversations with many scientists, Eric was left with unanswered questions.

“Although we have made many great advancements in technology, science and medicine, we still understand very little regarding the human brain and its complexity,” he explains.

Eric was on a mission to explore the unknown. Then came Project7.

The Project7 goal is to climb Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elrus, Kosciuszko and Vinson for brain research

Through Project7, Eric will attempt to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents in an effort to raise money and awareness to help us better understand the most complex organ in our bodies, the brain. Eric is climbing Richard Bass’ Seven Summits List, which consists of Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elrus, Kosciuszko and Vinson.

“My goal is to take my passion for the outdoors and use it to help others,” he says.

The fear of the unknown

Eric feels that climbing brings him back to what matters the most. “When you’re in the mountains it removes all the noise in our lives, and I can see the world, and my life, more clearly,” he says.

Climbing is inherently a dangerous sport, but it’s also one that requires a lot of patience and the ability to accept what you can’t control.

“I climb because failure is so high and so real in the mountains,” he explains. “Not the risk of dying as much as the reality of not summiting.”

Many mountaineers spend years of their lives preparing and training for a specific event, but if they are faced with poor conditions on that day, they are unable to succeed. If there’s one thing Eric has learned, it’s to think on his feet and accept the unknown.

“How you act, react and live with these moments and decisions in the mountains shapes you,” he says. “In life, we experience change in months and years, but in the mountains, you can experience this change in moments, steps and minutes.”

A mountaineer must know when to keep pushing, and when to walk away to avoid things like frostbite, accidents, or even death.

“You can do everything right, and failure comes from things out of your control,” he explains.

Eric asked himself the same question regarding the loss of his father, which eventually lead to Project7 and his passion for brain research.

“How can you do everything right in life, live a perfectly healthy life, and suddenly have a stroke?”

Some things are out of our control.

Investing in a better tomorrow

According to Canadian Institute for Health Information, stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada, and more than 62,000 strokes occur each year. The Government of Canada also states that stroke is the tenth largest contributor to disability-adjusted life years (the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death).

If there’s one thing we can do, it’s support ground-breaking brain research.

When Eric launched Project7, he admired Brain Canada’s focus on research across the brain, the Foundation’s One Brain approach, instead of on a specific disease or disorder.

“There isn’t much, for better or worse, that if we care enough about, we won’t solve eventually,” he explains. “Just because we can’t perfectly model an exact path, doesn’t mean we can’t accurately model general direction.”

Everyone will be impacted by brain disease. The majority of us know someone who has been affected by either a brain disease, disorder, or injury. According to Canadian Mental Health Association, statistics show that one in every five Canadians will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives.  We are still exploring solutions to mysteries like depression, bipolar disorder, stroke, epilepsy, and brain injury.

“If we invest enough capital in brain research, we can model a general direction of incredible life-changing and saving breakthroughs,” notes Eric. “Our human intelligence is the one thing that makes us fundamentally different from all other life forms on this planet, so we’d be best to invest in it.”

Supporting cutting-edge research and the human brain, our last unknown frontier, is one step towards improving health outcomes for all people in Canada.

“It’s like when we are climbing mountains,” Eric says. “The decisions and actions we take today will ultimately determine our future.”

To learn more about the latest discoveries in Canadian brain research, and to donate to brain research, visit braincanada.ca.