While their stories, running abilities and goals may vary, each Global Hero brings inspiration to the starting line. By sharing these stories, others can cheer the accomplishment, or take action in their own lives.
Thanks to advances in medical technology, these extraordinary runners still compete — not necessarily against the field — but within themselves.
Meet our 2008 Global Heroes
Medtronic Global Heroes Honorary Captain
Elizabeth Fortescue, M.D.
Breese, 44, has a pacemaker to treat arrhythmia.
Breese had a pacemaker implanted after experiencing cardiac arrest at age 35. “Being young and having no family members with heart disease, I had no knowledge of what a pacemaker was or what having one could mean for my life. As I sought to make sense of what was happening, the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Can I still run?’”
Breese, an avid runner for nearly 30 years, wrote a book about her experience in an attempt to help other mothers dealing with health issues. Cereal for Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts & Sanity for Moms Battling Illness was published in 2004. Breese also serves as a volunteer spokesperson for the American Heart Association, speaking at AHA Go Red! events.
“After ignoring my symptoms for years and believing falsely that someone like me could never have a heart problem, facing my mortality as a young mom taught me everything about how to care for myself and model that behavior to my kids and others. Indeed, the whole experience of my cardiac arrest and recovery has made me smell the roses, count my blessings, and showed me, literally, how to pace myself.”
Bumgardner, 38, has spinal rods to treat scoliosis (curvature of the spine).
By the time Bumgardner reached her twenties, scoliosis had caused the “S” curve in her back to reach 40 degrees in the upper portion and 35 degrees in the lower. “The level of discomfort I lived with prevented me from even considering distance running. I was not what you would call an athletic person.”
Thirteen years ago she underwent surgery to attach two 12-inch metal rods to her spine. “After the surgery, I couldn’t even turn over by myself. It was a long road of physical therapy. Along that road, I started walking. I was so glad to be able to walk that I walked and walked and walked. Then, I walked farther. Eventually, I tried to jog.” In a little over a year, she was running 3 miles and entered her first 5K road race. Since then, she has completed 7 marathons, a triathlon, and several shorter running events.A sixth grade science teacher, Bumgardner believes in teaching by example and exercises with her female students for 20 to 30 minutes before school each day. “Every other day I run with the girls and I have seen them become more fit and confident. Most of the students have also shown academic improvement on their quarterly exams. My goal is that they will become life-long runners and life-long learners.”
Engel, 46, has a pacemaker to treat arrhythmia.
Born with a heart murmur, Engel received a single lead pacemaker at the age of 17 when she was diagnosed with an unusually low resting heart rate due to Sick Sinus Syndrome. At the time, her cardiologist advised her to refrain from running and exerting herself in athletic activities. Several years later she was diagnosed with heart block and received a dual lead pacemaker. This time, however, she was encouraged to be physically active and not view her pacemaker or heart condition as a limitation.
“Today, at the age of 46 and on my sixth pacemaker, I have run 6 marathons, two ultra distance marathons, four 100-plus mile bicycle events, and various distance triathlons. In July 2007, I completed the ultimate physical challenge of an Ironman distance triathlon. Without my device I would not have had this incredible life experience!”
Engel works and volunteers at the local YMCA. “I continue to share my story within the community to inspire others with or without physical limitations to overcome life challenges and to live life to the fullest.”
Fortescue, 36, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia.
Fortescue, a pediatric cardiologist at Boston Childrens Hospital, received her ICD seven years ago after suffering a medical complication while training for her second marathon.
She has applied her medical expertise to the study of marathon running, and along with her colleagues, has had research on the sport published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “I am an active reviewer of manuscripts submitted for publication on the topic of marathon training safety, and I take my role very seriously, especially given my device and heart condition.
“As a cardiologist, a long-time runner, a heart patient, and a wife to an elite marathoner who is my biggest fan and supporter, I am ready for another marathon. I want to beat my previous time and prove, for myself at least, that my ICD is a help and safety net, not an impediment. I believe that strongly.”
Happel, 38, has a pacemaker to treat arrhythmia.
Despite fainting episodes and a diagnosis that took eight months, Happel continued to train for long-distance events, including an Ironman triathlon that she completed last August in Louisville, Kentucky.She received her ICD in March 2008 after learning that she had High-Grade AV Block. “I’ve had my pacemaker for only a few weeks. I feel my life has already improved. During the months since my first syncopal episode [unexplained fainting], the fear and worry about what was wrong with me permeated my life. Now, I have my pacemaker and I can be me.
“People tell me that I have inspired them to push themselves further and overcome their own challenges. They know I continue to live my running and racing dreams despite a heart condition. If I can do it, so can they!”
Jungbauer, 50, has spinal plates and bone grafts to treat back and neck injuries.
Minnesota State Senator Michael Jungbauer credits medical technology for giving him the chance to run again and share his passion for wellness.
An avid runner before a car accident and construction injury led to two neck surgeries, Jungbauer refrained from the sport when pain from related nerve damage in his leg and arm made it difficult. “I became overweight and that seemed to compound the nerve damage. I was at wits end and, seeing no other way out, talked to my doctor about a heavy exercise program that included trying to run again.”
Over the last three years, he has gradually increased his distances and in 2007 ran 21 miles across his senate district to introduce a wellness initiative.
“I believe that I am a living example that you can do more than others may think you can do. I use my visibility to promote wellness initiatives and legislation that moves us toward more family friendly, livable, walkable and bicyclable communities. I am working with all levels of government and private sectors to promote wellness.”
Marshall, 32, a type 1 diabetes patient, has an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system.
“I enjoy the rush of obtaining a goal, especially a goal that others perceive I can not [accomplish] due to medical obstacles. For me, running is all in the mind. Pushing your body further then you think you can go is training for not only physical, but also mental. I enjoy the clarity in my body and mind that comes with running.”
With her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system Marshall feels freed from the constraints her diabetes had placed on her body and her life. “I was freed from a regimented schedule. I stopped requiring emergency visits to the hospital. I was able to get my body to a healthy status, and most importantly to my life, I was able to obtain my goal of running a marathon.
“I regained my health, my freedom and feel normal. I want to show others how this is possible.”
Polkinghorn, 39, has a pacemaker to treat an arrhythmia.
“In 1969, doctors told my mom that my birth defect, Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return, was ‘incompatible with life.’ A funny thing happened on the way to my incompatible life though; I lived.”
At 11 weeks of age Polkinghorn underwent open heart surgery and remembers at an early age being told that she would someday need a pacemaker. “My life was filled with many doctor visits, holter monitors, stress tests and catheterizations. At one such visit in 1976, I can clearly remember my cardiologist joking that 'she probably won’t be running any marathons.'” At 19, fainting spells and a low heart rate prompted the implantation of her first pacemaker.
Now a mother of three, Polkinghorn began running a year and a half ago when family responsibilities made it hard to squeeze in a workout.
“In the time it would have taken me to drive to the gym, I ran two miles. I was hooked! Since having taken up running, I have run one marathon, two half-marathons and several 10K and 5K races. I love doing something no one ever thought I would be able to do. I love pushing myself, my body and my heart — the metaphorical, not the physical – to do that which once seemed impossible.”
Shoe, 27, a type 1 diabetes patient, has an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system.
“Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age five was difficult for my family and me for many reasons, the most important being the lack of technology to provide intense, reliable management. Though many activities were restricted, I was able to participate in gymnastics and dance competitions safely, though I longed to run and bike competitively.”
Today, the technological advances in continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pumps allow Shoe to pursue her true passions. “Never a day goes by that I question whether I will be able to safely participate in an adventure or journey. I run freely with my pump and sensor technology.
“I now work with children who have diabetes and work hard to open their eyes towards a healthy lifestyle full of alternatives, management strategies and acceptance of their abilities.”
Silva, 24, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia.
Diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome at age 16, Silva, a competitive swimmer, received her first ICD in 2002. “While I was grateful for the lifesaving technology, I became depressed with the feeling that my life would never be the same.”
Unable to shake the perception that heart conditions afflicted the elderly rather than young, healthy teens like herself, Silva eventually “decided that I would no longer let this condition or my device limit my life and my dreams.”Although she had never run before, she laced up her shoes in January 2003 and has completed three marathons and a half-Ironman triathlon. “When I initially received my device I had trouble finding other young people who knew and understood the experience of living with a life-threatening heart condition and this therapy. Living through this as a young person brings even more challenges to the table. I want to inspire those around me who find themselves in a similar position."
Stewart, 26, a type 1 diabetes patient, has an insulin pump.
A type 1 diabetes patient for more than 14 years, Stewart participated in team sports through high school and college, but his multiple daily injections made it a constant challenge. Seeking ways to stay in shape after graduating, he began running and cycling, but struggled to manage his blood sugars as he trained for his first marathon.
“After countless hours of research and frustration that my diabetes was holding me back during races, I decided that an insulin pump was for me. My first day on the pump, I raced home from the doctor and went for a run. It was the most free feeling I had ever had in my life.”An employee of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Government Relations Office, Stewart acknowledges that while having diabetes is not easy, individuals can live a close to normal life with the proper support, education and treatment. “The most important part of my day is waking up and thinking about the millions of kids and families I’m going to work to represent. I treat my races much the same and try to educate and impress upon strangers the daily fight diabetics have and how so many of them do it so well.”
Vahasoyrinki, 59, has a pacemaker to treat arrhythmia.
Sports have always played a major role in Vahasoyrinki’s life. However, due to slowly developing bradycardia, he was terrified that he would have to abandon long distance running.
In fact, Vahasoyrinki almost gave up athletics before receiving his pacemaker. “I can honestly say that medical technology has changed my life. I am again full of energy and enthusiasm because I can do sports. As a Medtronic Global Hero I can help other Nordic people with the same questions and concerns.”
Vettorello, 62, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia
A veteran of 90 marathons, Vettorello suffered her first ventricular tachycardia episode during her 78 th 26.2-mile race. “My ICD provided the backbone of courage I needed to continue running. I would never have the confidence to stay active without it. I have completed 21 marathons since I received my ICD. That was almost five years ago!”
Vettorello captures the essence of a Global Hero: “It means loving something with such a passion you simply can’t quit in the face of adversity. It means that the spirit of energy and enthusiasm inspires others to challenge their limits.”
Albrecht, 39, a type 1 diabetes patient, has an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system.
Albrecht, who began running during high school, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 17. “In the years following my diagnosis I attempted to get back into running but had an awful time with low blood sugars.” Despite the struggles, Albrecht ran her first marathon in 1998.
Five years ago, she began using an insulin pump and added continuous glucose monitoring this year. “I feel so much more energetic while I run and after I’m done. Thankfully, now it’s only rare occasions that I have the severe low episodes I used to have after running.
“People often ask me if I like my insulin pump. I emphatically reply, ‘Yes!’ I truly believe I’ve gained back a quality of life that was lost when I was on multiple daily injections.”
Bradley, 36, has an aortic valve replacement to facilitate blood flow to the heart.
A keen sportsman all his life, Bradley was forced to give up contact sports when his condition began to deteriorate rapidly in 2005. By 2007, he was even forced to stop working full time as it was too much of a strain for his body.
After undergoing a double valve operation in August 2007, he has a new lease on life. “My enthusiasm for tackling life head on has amazed me. I did not think I would be back working so quickly and not feeling tired. When I was in the hospital recuperating, I told my visitors that I would start running as I would not be allowed to take part in the contact team sports that I had previously enjoyed so much.”
Bradley’s enthusiasm spills over to his new full-time job as well, which provides sporting opportunities for blind and visually-impaired children. “The surgery not only helped me to start exercising and feel good again, it has also enabled me to carry on a job that I love. I firmly believe that sport enriches lives, no matter whether it’s through excellence or participation. I feel very privileged to be in a position to get fit again and inspire other people I work with.”
Breece, 56, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia. .
A dramatic decrease in his ability to run was Breece’s first indication that something was wrong. A runner for 40 years, he found it hard to reach the top of a modest incline less than a mile from his house.
After a battery of tests, he learned that his heart was damaged and could no longer sustain the effort of his normal training runs. Because his condition, nonischemic cardiomyopathy, increased the odds of an irregular rhythm, he received an ICD in spring 2007.
“As a health educator and employee wellness coordinator, I teach others about the importance of physical activity. Rather than make excuses because of my health challenge, I now have a very visible opportunity to openly demonstrate to others that in addition to ‘talking the talk,’ I still ‘walk the walk.’ My physical heart may not perform at the level it did before my diagnosis; ironically, because of that I now have a chance to show myself and others how much heart I truly have.”
Buciak, 48, has an aortic valve replacement to facilitate blood flow to the heart.
“I started running 34 years ago on the first day of freshman cross country practice and have never stopped. At age 19, I completed my first Boston Marathon in 1980. What a special experience.”
Over the years Buciak continued to rack up the miles and the marathons, completing more than 50, but during his annual physical in 2002 an EKG revealed that he had atrial fibrillation. An echocardiogram confirmed that it was caused by a leak in his aortic valve.
“I was able to continue running, but at a slower pace. In January 2006, the leak increased to the critical stage, and it was time for surgery. Medical technology saved my life. Less than 11 weeks after open heart surgery, I completed my 27 th straight Boston Marathon.”
Today, as a public speaker and running coach, Buciak actively promotes good heart care, especially to fellow runners. “We are so fortunate to have advanced medical technology which can save our lives, but it is our responsibility to take the first step and schedule an annual exam.”
Carbonetta, 53, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia.
A veteran runner of nearly 30 years, Carbonetta was shocked to learn that he was in complete congestive heart failure in June 2006. “Imagine being told [that] after running so many years. My family was told I may have to undergo a heart transplant. Life had just taken a drastic turn. How could a healthy, fit 50-year-old be going through this?”
Instead, his doctors decided to implant an ICD, and Carbonetta was running again by September.
Having lost both his father and mother to heart disease before he graduated from high school, Carbonetta is grateful to have a different outcome for his daughter. He recently published Petals of Love, A Daddy’s Wisdom for His Daughter. “The book is my legacy for my daughter and daddy’s daughters all over the world.”
Grady, 39, has a pulmonary heart valve replacement to facilitate blood flow to the heart.
“At three months of age, I was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. An emergency Waterston Shunt saved my life. Overall, I’ve undergone five open heart surgeries. Without these amazing advances in surgical techniques and medical technology, I would not be here today. And I would not be around for my wife and three wonderful children, to whom I dedicate every race I run.”
Grady, who is on the Board of Directors for the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) combines running with fundraising and is committed to raising awareness among adults who share his condition.
“Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the world, yet millions of people with adult congenital heart disease do not regularly visit trained cardiologists to manage their defects/diseases. As congenital heart patients age, new and different issues can arise and they must be followed for their rest of their lives at an ACHD center. This is just not happening.
“Today, ACHA is extremely focused on the transition stage – when pediatric cardiologists hand off their patients to adult cardiologists. This is a seminal moment and it often dictates how much care the patient will receive, or seek out, the rest of his or her life. We are working closely with nurse practitioners, pediatric cardiologists and adult cardiologist all over the world to ensure that transition happens and adult patients continue to seek out the medical care they need.”
Mandelbaum, 52, has deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Just a few years ago, Parkinson’s disease was slowing robbing Mandelbaum of her ability to run. “Feeling like lead weights, my feet were my obstacles, but I refused to give up my beloved running. My will did not win out over my body’s surrender. Six miles became three, three miles became two, and two became one.
A runner since the age of 19, she was forced to stop when the shaking got too bad. “For me losing the ability to run was devastating. The disease was moving so fast that a life in a wheelchair was not hard to imagine.”
Undergoing surgery for deep brain stimulation in 2003 and 2006, Mandelbaum is back on the roads. “Modern medicine gave me the most valuable gift – the ability to move normally.”
Active in the Florida Coalition to Cure Parkinson’s Disease, Mandelbaum’s goal was “to run again and wear stiletto heels after being diagnosed. Both are accomplished.”
McDonald, 53, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia.
“On Thursday, August 30, 1995 my life was forever changed. That was the day I blacked out driving to work. My heart rate was over 200 beats per minute and in ventricular tachycardia.
“How could I have run 6 miles on August 29 th and been in the hospital with heart problems the next day? My problems were electrical and could not be ablated. The doctors told me it could be detrimental for me to run longer distances, so I followed their advice and stopped running. I thought my life as an athlete was over.”
In 2001, McDonald, a hospital chaplain, received an ICD and in the ensuing years began to run again. “It was clear to me that I needed to exercise again to maintain a healthy rhythm and balance in my life. Physical exercise is the best way for me to relieve my emotional stress at the end of my workday.”
Earlier this year, McDonald’s ICD fired while she was on a training run, shocking her heart out of a dangerous rhythm. After the episode, her doctor gave her the clear to continue running. “I realize how lucky I am to be alive and that my ICD allows me to live a normal life. Not only has my life been improved by medical technology, I am alive today because of [it].”
Neilsen, 23, a type 1 diabetes patient, has an insulin pump.
“Since I was diagnosed, I have known that exercising is the key to be able to control my diabetes and still live the flexible, impulsive and random life I so enjoy.” For a number of years, Nielsen ran 4 to 5 kilometers just to stay fit and managed her condition with insulin injections. Her first attempt at running a half marathon, however, made her realize that “the distance itself was not a big deal. The real obstacle was how to deal with my diabetes.”
Nielsen received her insulin pump in January 2008, and now “no matter what my blood sugar is, I can decide only one hour in advance that I want to go for a 10K run, without having to eat enormous amounts of food and deal with blood sugars going up and down. Recently, I have started training with a large group of runners in my neighborhood. Not knowing how long, how fast and exactly when we are going to run are no longer issues I really bother thinking about.”Nielsen has been a volunteer on the youth council of the Danish Diabetes Association (DDA) for more than five years and has worked at many diabetes camps for children and families. “As I became more confident with this new challenge in my life, I also realized how much my experience can benefit others."
Sabga, 47, has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to treat arrhythmia.
Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1991, Sabga began exercising in 1996 to build muscle tone and endurance. “After about a year, during which I thought I had developed sport-induced asthma, I had an episode of ventricular tachycardia and fainted in the hospital doctors’ parking lot on my way to deliver a baby – a sudden cardiac death event!”
Sabga received her ICD shortly after and in the following months began cycling, running and swimming. She has participated in several half marathons and triathlons.
“I love running and triathlons and really think my training has helped my MS more than my medications. My neurologist thinks I may be right, and my cardiologist – a marathoner – definitely approves. My ICD has only gone off once, and I realized how much more confident I am performing endurance sports knowing I have an ICD that works!
“I feel I am a good example to my patients in keeping in shape despite physical limitations. I tell them I have MS and an ICD, and that if I can do it, so can they. I’m proof that with the right help you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Thomas, 27, has an ITB (Intrathecal Baclofen) Therapy pump to treat spasticity, a movement disorder.
Active and passionate about sports as a youth, Thomas developed increasingly severe spasticity during high school and completely lost her ability to walk by her senior year. In 2000, she had her first ITB pump implanted.“While I knew that I would be more comfortable with my pump, I had no idea that I would ever be able to walk independently, let alone run. Although I needed lots of physical therapy, I am now able to wake up without pain and participate in all the activities I used to be involved in, from playing soccer to water skiing to running.
“Now that I am healthy again, my pump serves as a reminder to focus on the positive aspects of life. I certainly was very concerned about what it would look like or how it would feel, but I tell prospective patients that my pump is just like any other body part. Most importantly, it has enabled me to become independent again, and that freedom is worth more than just about anything.
Vandevelde, 20, a type 1 diabetes patient, has an insulin pump.
“When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14, I thought my life was over. It was, for about six weeks. Then I was able to get an insulin pump.”
At age 20, Vandelvelde is already an accomplished athlete, competing on soccer teams, playing beach volleyball, and cycling through Death Valley twice to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, among other activities.
“Before I started using my insulin pump, I had to have a set number of carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I had to eat a morning, afternoon and bedtime snack, regardless of whether I was starving or hungry at all. When I got my insulin pump, I was suddenly free from the rigid schedule.”
In her second year at San Diego State University, Vandevelde is majoring in social work and kinesiology. After graduating, she hopes to work with child athletes with type 1 diabetes. “I will make sure that they have knowledge and access to medical technology that will help them live their lives as athletes first and diabetics second, just like me.”