The Medtronic Foundation’s Global Heroes program celebrated runners from around the world who benefited from medical technology. Past participants included 259 runners representing 38 different countries and a wide range of medical conditions. You can learn more about the Medtronic Foundation Global Heroes alumni by reading their bios here.
A new program has been created by Medtronic to honor athletes with medical technology, called Medtronic Global Champions. We pay tribute to and recognize all Medtronic Foundation Global Heroes alumni as honorary members of the Medtronic Global Champions inaugural team.
In 2010, Bill van Hoogstraten was training for a 13-mile road race planned for the following day. Two miles into the run he felt dizzy, sat down to rest, but did not get up. Three and a half hours later he arrived at a hospital having been resuscitated three times enroute. Bill had suffered a serious heart attack and sustained damage to his brain as a result of a shortage of oxygen.
The impact on Bill was physical, emotional, and psychological. Bill had always been an active individual but his heart attack sent him to the sidelines for recovery – and it very well could have been the end. Bill received stents to restore the function of his heart, and has recovered to the point of completing a marathon, ultra-marathon, and multiple triathlons.
Bill is a member of an international running group, the Ironheart Racing Team, which is made up of athletes who have suffered previous heart events. As a part of this group, he conducts outreach to raise awareness of heart disease in South Africa. For him, “Life will never be the same, but it is a life worth living and sharing.”
Diagnosed with diabetes at age 4, sports were always a part of Carolyn Friedman's life. She received an insulin pump to manage her diabetes when she was a junior in college. Initially reluctant, she now wishes she had started pumping sooner.
Carolyn has learned to manage her diabetes and has steadily improved over time with frequent training. Last year, she ran more than 2,200 miles, and set a new personal record for her marathon time.
And though there is no doubt her accomplishment is extraordinary, Carolyn believes those who share her condition, also are heroes. "I think all people with diabetes living a healthy life are heroes, whether they are a runner, walker, tennis player or person who does yoga. I truly believe "running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get what you put into it."
Having diabetes and being active is no easy feat. “Before getting a pump, I had to stop several times during a run to measure blood sugar and take insulin when needed.” Since starting on insulin pump therapy in 2012, Carla is able to receive the correct amount of carbohydrates necessary and maintain blood glucose levels.
When Carla discovered she had diabetes, she joined the Association for Juvenile Diabetes where she learned more about it, volunteered, and participated as a mentor in camps for youth and children with diabetes. A runner of 10 years, she is vocal about her life with diabetes and running, and writes a blog called “Diabetessualinda,” telling her story as a wife, mother, and runner living with diabetes.
She has organized a relay team of women with diabetes to participate in races, and hopes to inspire others to live life positively even with a serious disease.
“Running is like a road trip: there is a large area of uncertainty, you meet friends along the way, there are doubts and suffering, but at the end it’s so much fun you want to start again immediately.”
Francois Ledoux has been an insulin-dependent person with diabetes since November 1999. He was 15 when he was first diagnosed, and acknowledges his father for encouraging him to carry on and continue to lead an active life. Inspired by a friend to start running after a soccer injury five years ago, he now runs with an organized running club—Type 1 Running Team—which promotes the importance of doing sports as a person with diabetes and fundraising for diabetes research. Francois received an insulin pump in January 2016.
For Francois, the insulin pump allows him the freedom to control his diabetes, reach personal goals, make lasting friends, and maintain his health. “Accept your disease and treat it seriously then all the things you’ll do with it will seem a victory. You have a partner, not an enemy. Live with your diabetes and not against it.”
Jeroen van Hoorn was a semi-professional cyclist who competed in international races before his diagnosis. He was preparing to qualify for the Paralympics with a blind cyclist when he received his diagnosis and endured several surgeries. Having to give up his passion for cycling because of his heart condition was a major setback. But inspired by his 66-year-old marathon-running father, he took up running as a replacement-and has been in love with it ever since.
Jeroen currently has an ICD to manage his heart disease. In spite of his condition, Jeroen has been running for 11 years. He is a coach and trainer of the Rotterdam Marathon Organization. He enjoys motivating others to try a bit harder and run farther, and to listen to their body to maintain the best health.
"Running makes me smile and gives me energy. It's a wonderful sport that can be done everywhere in the world with whomever wants to join me."
Keith Broadfoot suffered a heart attack that had a survival rate of 40 percent. It was only well into recovery time when he got the itch to return to running. With approval from his medical team to start training, Keith underwent an echocardiogram and stress test that picked up a dangerous heart thrombosis. Through a series of extensive tests, his medical team detected a tiny hole in his heart that called for a PFO amplatzer device and a loop-recorder. If not for his yearning to run again, the hole might have gone undetected leaving Keith at an even higher risk for complications.
For Keith, running is a part of his identity. “I knew that if I truly was to get my self-confidence back after my heart attack, running was going to be a key part of the recovery.” Running has delivered some of Keith’s most rewarding accomplishments—from running in the London Marathon to completing Ironman distance triathlons while representing both the United Kingdom and Australia at the World Duathlon Championships. Running means life and survival, and a way to overcome his odds by competing in international marathon races.
He commends his cardiologist and the Heart Research Australia charity for his successful recovery. Keith now shares his story, participates in fundraising drives, and is a community ambassador for the charity to promote heart health awareness, and funding for research.
Michael Shepherd leads a busy life running a small company, caring for his disabled wife and daughter, fundraising for charities, and serving as an NHS volunteer emergency responder. Prior to receiving his pacemaker, he was relying on his 14-year-old son to help out around the house, and struggling through work. Once implanted, Michael regained energy, his sense of fun, and was able to become a father, caregiver, and income generator once more. He relies on the physical, mental, and emotional strength his pacemaker provides so that he can provide for his family and be the best father he can be.
Shortly after being fitted, he entered into his first extreme marathon – a North Pole marathon – to raise money for a charity that supports research for ME patients. ME is a chronic fatigue disease which his daughter has suffered from since age 12. Alongside this, Michael serves as chairman and general organizer of a running club which has raised more than $10,000 for charity. He also is a fundraising committee member for Treloars School for the severely mentally and physically disabled.
Nupur Lalvani is a vocal diabetes advocate and member of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in her hometown. She loves being a role model for people with diabetes (and those without) to inspire them to live happily, confidently, and fearlessly. Realizing the impact her story can have for others, Nupur shares her story and adventures of traveling wherever she goes.
After receiving her insulin pump in 2015, Nupur was able to embark on the longest train journey in Asia—nearly 2,500 miles in five days from Dibrugarh, Assam to Kanniyakumari in the southern India—alone the entire way. She is also able to work more hours and run long distances.
Inspired by her father, Nupur began running as a way to get in shape and feel confident. Now it has turned into her way of creating a community, bringing the power of sport into society, and to empower women and children.
“Running to me is a form of meditation, the way yoga is for a lot of people. I always feel peaceful, joyous and refreshed after a run.”
Rachael Narbey never thought she'd be able to run one kilometer without stopping. Now, she's about to run her sixth marathon with a smile on her face. Rachael received an ICD in 2011 to treat Long QT Syndrome - a condition that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
Having the ICD allows Rachael to be an enthusiastic, energetic, and compassionate pediatric registered nurse.
It is running that gives her the physical strength to endure a busy 12-hour shift as a nurse. It is through running that she has found a welcoming community, and has met lifelong friends. Rachael is part of an international group, 'I Run 4 Michael' that matches runners to people who are unable to run. Every mile she trains or runs is for her 5 year old buddy, Victor. "When my legs get tired, I run with my heart."
Rachael has been a lifelong member of support groups for young adults with heart conditions and has been running since 2012. For her, every step is a triumph over what once held her back.
“Then I got diabetes and I thought my running days were over.”
After being diagnosed two weeks after her first half-marathon, Sarah Lever began running out of rebellion and anger at her diabetes. “I then continued to run to prove it really didn’t matter.” Sarah has been running for eight years, and received an insulin pump in 2014, and a continuous glucose monitor in 2016. What started out as a simple suggestion by a friend to join in on a run, turned into a lifestyle choice she just couldn’t shake.
For Sarah, getting an insulin pump meant she could run longer distances, and maintain a steady blood sugar level. During marathons she no longer had to do a finger-prick test after 18 miles while sweaty and shaking with exhaustion. Gone were the four to five injections a day, and the worry of maintaining her blood sugar levels.
Since she has been running, Sarah finds herself reading about other active and inspiring people. It was Matt Long’s story—a man who sustained horrible injuries in a road traffic accident and kept on running—that encouraged her to participate in the New York Marathon. Suddenly, running a marathon with diabetes did not seem so impossible.
Sarah hopes to inspire others with diabetes to challenge themselves physically and believe that they, too, can participate in endurance events.
Running gives Ben Carlsen a sense of calm that replaces the constant worry of a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. An active runner for more than 15 years, running brings clarity to Ben’s life.
Ben is a vocal advocate of dispelling the myth that lung cancer only affects smokers. He was diagnosed at age 36 as a fit, non-smoking individual and could not understand how he was one to get lung cancer. Ben wants to be able to dispel this myth by continuing to lead a healthy, active life, and by speaking out about his experiences.
The lung navigation and biopsy system helped get Ben diagnosed quickly so that he could receive the right treatment and return to a normal life. Ben credits running with giving him a sense of peace and an ability to let go.
“I know that cancer has changed my life, but running, brings some sense of normalcy and many wonderful moments of clarity – it's priceless.”
Without his ICD, Shane Johnson would most likely have not survived the Sudden Cardiac Arrest he experienced only days after an almost fatal heart attack while working as a Contractor in Afghanistan. Shane hadn't run for 30 years since his discharge from the US Army as a Paratrooper, but took up running again as a way to improve his health and his heart. Johnson credits medical technology for saving his life, and for allowing him to continue to live an active and meaningful life.
As a result of his own accomplishments, Shane has become a passionate advocate of dispelling the common myth: that heart patients are too fragile to engage in physical exercise and need to take things easier. He refuses to accept the death sentence implied when one is diagnosed with heart disease.
For Shane, running provides the positive proof that in spite of a weakened heart and middle age, both he and others have the ability to improve personal health and well-being by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Even when he needed a stent implant following a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, Johnson was not set back, or slowed down. "I have a new outlook on life, and appreciation for my body and my health. I've been given a second chance at life, and I'm going to make the most of it."
Paul Wylie is an American figure skater, coach, and a 1992 Olympic Silver medalist. After the Olympics, he joined the professional skating ranks, winning the 1992 U.S. Open Professional Championship and the 1993 World Professional Figure Skating Championships. He later toured with Stars on Ice from 1992-98 before retiring. In 2008, Wylie was inducted to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
On April 21, 2015, Paul suffered a cardiac arrest while running with friends. He now has an ICD to help monitor his heart and if needed, deliver an electrical signal to correct a life-threatening heart rate.
When he’s not skating or coaching, Paul enjoys spending time with his family, as well as traveling across the country and educating others about health and wellness.
With constant encouragement by her sisters, Shuqin has been running since she was a schoolgirl. Seven years ago she received her deep brain stimulation to manage some of the symptoms of essential tremor. Since then she has lived life with a positive attitude.
Shuqin is a firm advocate of encouraging those suffering from movement disorders to remain optimistic about their conditions. She also participates in many patient rights advocacy projects, all the while encouraging others to overcome their physical barriers and remain active in their lives. Shuqin acknowledges that she wouldn’t be where she is today without trusting her doctors and her medical technology. “It brings me a new sense of life.”
Monika Beck has been living with a pacemaker for 25 years-something that she has struggled with accepting and finding self confidence in for a very long time. Monika had an open heart surgery at the age of four. Since age 21, "I always felt that I was less than others, and it has taken me many years to undergo treatment for my disease because I felt ashamed."
It was from her doctor's encouragement that Monika began giving talks about her experiences to other patients, talking openly about illness, fight, acceptance, and being different. Monika started to accept herself and she overcame new challenges along the way. Her husband and her children have always been a great support. They encouraged her to start doing sports. She began running and continued with triathlon. "Sport completes my life." Monika's dream is to participate one day in the IronMan 70.3 Budapest.
Monika uses her story to encourage others about speaking out, and to organize physical activity programs for kids with heart disease.
Lucia began running four years ago at the encouragement of her swim instructor - running 5Ks, and now half marathons, with her sights set on completing a full marathon. It was around the same time she started on an insulin pump to manage her diabetes. The pump allows her to have more freedom in her activities, and being in good health has always been a priority for Lucia.
In Lucia’s home city there is a race almost every weekend. Lucia sees these races as opportunities to be happier and healthier, because “nothing compares to the satisfaction of reaching the finish line, and the wellness sensation after a good race.”
Lucia encourages everybody, including her family members and husband to dedicate time for taking care of their health.
“Living with diabetes was never an obstacle to me; it only helped me overcome new challenges.”
Laura Edwards' journey began five years ago when, as a college athlete, she collapsed during a game. The doctors told her she would never be able to play again, run again, nor carry on a normal life. At age 25 she never expected her path to change. While her peers were starting families and careers, Laura sat through numerous appointments and surgeries, while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong.
After receiving a pacemaker, everything changed. She began running again, and she has fallen in love with running. Rather than being sidelined from physical activity due to her critical heart condition, Laura was given a second chance at life and decided to make the best of it. "I am one of the lucky ones who, because of my doctors and my device, got a second go around at life and there is no stopping me now."
Following her own gift of a second chance, she started "The Laura Brunet Foundation" to help youth and young adults who suffer from heart disease. The foundation provides scholarships and support to youth needing help living out Laura's personal motto-to "run between the dash." "We all have a start and end day, it's what you do in between that makes your mark."
Kelly Riegel-Green is a lawyer, mother of twins, and an active member of the Team RWB, Infinite Multisport Triathlon Club, and I Run 4 Michael. She is passionate about pushing herself and achieving her goals. After losing 100 lbs. and getting into the best shape of her life she began competing in triathlons century rides and running races, which only fueled her to set higher health goals, and improved her self-confidence.
In 2014, Kelly was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension. This critical condition called for eight surgeries related to her brain, and she underwent multiple procedures to treat Intracranial Hypertension, formerly known as pseudo tumor cerebri (PTC) - an incurable condition that has affected her balance, eyesight, and hearing.
Through it all, Kelly has remained focused on her goal of completing an Ironman, while raising teenage twins, and running her law practice. "Running and triathlons means I've overcome the odds. I've survived and thrived. It means I can do the impossible." Kelly hopes her story can encourage others, and spread awareness about intracranial hypertension and shunts.
Joseph Zakrzewski has been a runner for more than 10 years dedicating six days a week to “running through life.” As an active member of the Savannah Striders, he loves being inspired and encouraging others to “just run strong, and be healthy.”
In 2008, Joseph came down with a urinary tract infection, unaware of the fact that he was going to require emergency surgery for a malfunctioning bladder muscle. With his wife and daughter standing near, Joe underwent the surgery leaving him with the need to self-catheterize from then on. A couple months later, Joe was selected to trial a device for his urologic disorder. The trial was successful and he received a permanent implant which has since allowed him to run, work, and enjoy life without having a catheterization bag tied to his leg full time.
He is grateful for his family, medical urologist, and medical technology for allowing him to live how he wishes with his condition. “I was inspired - even more, to run after my device implant so I could run longer distances.”
Pan Fangyan is a primary school English teacher from Fujian, China and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2012. Her teaching career would not be possible without insulin pump therapy. More importantly, the device she began to wear in 2013 restored her ability to lead a normal and colorful life.
Pan’s work of Chinese calligraphy and paper cutting are popular gifts among friends and acquaintances. Also a sports aficionado, she plays badminton for two hours almost every day and runs five kilometers on a regular basis. Pan has assembled a small group of people with type 1 diabetes who meet to exercise and socialize. “I owe all these to the pump, which enables me to live without worry or sense of burden.” Pan says. “I believe this is a perfect opportunity to speak out to the diabetes population in China - instilling confidence for not only improved health but improved life quality as a whole,” Pan says. “And the most beautiful thing is achieving it through sports. I really look forward to the day when I hit the race track in Minneapolis.”
It wasn’t until around age 50 when Elizabeth Olson fell madly in love with running. What she thought was a boring, mundane exercise turned out to be her favorite part of the day. “Being outside, the fresh air, the scenery…running clears my head and prepares me for the day ahead.” Elizabeth has served as race director for her town’s annual fall festival, organizing a 5K and kid’s fun run. She’s passionate about encouraging everyone, especially kids, to get out and play every day.
Heart disease is not new to Elizabeth’s family. Her grandmother and great-aunt died at young ages from heart attacks. For Elizabeth, being diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia was a worrisome setback. Not only did Elizabeth have to modify her newfound love of running, but she was worried about not being there for her children and being able to raise them to be strong. She wasn’t going to let this stop her. She had an ICD implanted and continues running and enjoying life.
“I’m living proof, one can live a ‘normal’ life, in spite of heart issues. I’m thankful for my second chance at life, and the technology that keeps me alive.”
Since childhood, being physically active has been a part of Debbie Powers’ soul. During college, she led Indiana University women’s basketball team to the Final Four, later to become a professor of wellness, and head basketball coach at Ball State University. Currently retired, after 33 years as a teacher leading fitness classes, running classes, and coaching, Debbie continues to run every day, striving to be an example of healthy living. As a member of the Ancient City Road Runners in St. Augustine, Florida, she encourages other club members with heart conditions to continue running.
Six years after retirement Debbie began suffering from episodes of syncope—a sudden loss of consciousness due to a fall in blood pressure. Further testing lead to a diagnosis of sick sinus syndrome and bradycardia—either of which could have been fatal conditions had it not been for the implantation of a pacemaker. Debbie had been running for 42 years—and wasn’t about to stop now.
After receiving the pacemaker, Debbie has continued running and has completed two half-marathons. “Scientific breakthroughs, combined with the human spirit, are life-changing.” Debbie’s memoir, “Meeting Her Match” captures her spirit for sports and athletics and inspires others to push themselves to be the best they can be.
Chris Mould has held several high pressure jobs during his career where running served as his escape. “Running has always been where I go to think. Week in, week out, no matter where in the world I am.” For the past 12 years Chris has been Chairman of the Trussell Trust, a charity that created the United Kingdom’s largest foodbank network. With the trust, Chris joined his colleagues in running several marathons and races in order to raise money for his deeply beloved organization.
In 2014, Chris began to feel the onset of chest pain and shortness of breath. It was one day on a peaceful run in the woods when he could no longer run, later to be diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis and a dilated aorta. The condition worsened over time and he was not able to jog even for minutes at a time. He received a replacement valve and a graft.
A pacemaker now manages his heart disease and Chris again can run, climb mountains, and work those dedicated, long hours for the Trust, and other charities.
Chris hopes that his story will encourage people struggling with setbacks in life to persevere through diagnoses that often feel impossible to overcome. He thanks the medical technology that saved his heart for allowing him to take on more challenges, help more people, and spend more time with his grandkids.
Albert Olivella del Olmo has been an active person his whole life. What started out as a childhood passion for games and physical activity has fueled his dedication to studying exercise and making a career out of it. When he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he decided, “there’s no way this will stop me.” Since the diagnosis, Albert has been motivated to go further in life and to run like there’s no tomorrow. “When I run, I feel like I can handle any challenge. Running makes me feel free.” Albert has been running actively for six years—all with his insulin pump.
Albert is a personal trainer, and co-director of the Institute Diabetis Activa, a place where people with diabetes can go to help manage their disease with exercise. With his own success using an insulin pump, Albert is able to ‘run like crazy’ and help others do it too. “One of the best ways to demonstrate success is by example.” This device has allowed Albert to manage his diabetes, and keep his body full of energy so he can continue to do the things he loves.
For Fiona McKiernan running represents her determination and resilience. She kept her urinary retention problems a secret from most of her family and friends. 13 years later she has found courage and strength through running. Having been implanted with a device in 2010 to manage her urologic disorder, Fiona is now able to run freely and escape her illness.
Since she has been implanted with a device, Fiona’s been able to pursue her dreams of reaching new activity levels. She’s completed three half-marathons, flew over the Grand Canyon, and felt the spray of Old Faithful.
As a result of being able to go back to work, Fiona made new professional strides as well and received company recognition for her exceptional contributions to the workplace.
Fiona relishes in her outstanding health, abundance of energy, and newfound confidence that she can overcome any obstacle in life. Her current goal is to return home to Ireland to run a half-marathon.
Sanjeev Gathani lost more than 110 lbs. since he started running 10 years ago as a way to turn his life around. What began as a way to lose weight, but always felt like a chore, Sanjeev eventually began to enjoy running following bariatric surgery.
For Sanjeev, bariatric surgery was a way to better connect with his family and take on his own personal challenges. Running has allowed him to develop self-discipline and perseverance when times are challenging. Following his bariatric surgery, Sanjeev became disciplined in learning how to eat healthy and to stick with his training schedules.
"Running gives me the joy that no other sport can give. It brings people together regardless of age or background. It lets you explore your inner self and obtain peace of mind."
Sanjeev hopes that his story can inspire others to persevere when battles seem insurmountable.