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.
Confronted with Type 1 diabetes at age 8, Christman recalls, “I was scared and angry... I had to give myself three or four shots daily, eat certain amounts of food at specific times, and continually test my blood glucose levels.”
Already in love with running, she ran in her first 1-mile race within weeks of her diagnosis. While the results weren’t what she hoped for (her blood glucose dropped and she finished disoriented and disappointed), she was determined to pursue the sport.
Christman participated in varsity cross country and track from middle school through college and ran her first marathon in 2008.
“In eighth grade, I switched my insulin regimen from multiple daily injections to an insulin pump,” she states, adding, “I could finally eat and exercise when I wanted, not on a schedule mandated by the insulin.”
She added a continuous glucose monitor three years ago, which allows her to track her blood glucose value is at all times and makes training more manageable.
Currently a medical student at Johns Hopkins University, Christman spent a year researching and participating in clinical trials of implantable continuous glucose monitors. “I saw firsthand the scientific evidence of how such technology could improve people’s lives.”
“Running, in combination with diabetes, has taught me to take the inevitable disappointments in stride and to never give up on a dream. I have learned that a tremendous amount of planning and dedication will often lead to success.”
Although she wasn’t diagnosed with her exact condition until 2007, Foote lived for nearly 30 years with the knowledge that she could be at risk of sudden death. Her identical twin and an older sister both collapsed and died during exercise while in their early twenties.
“I made a decision back then to keep as fit as possible and make the most of my life,” she says.
An exercise test in 2007 indicated that Foote experienced polymorphic ventricular tachycardia at reasonably low levels of stress, even though she was completely asymptomatic, and she received an ICD.
Foote logs about 40 miles a week and says she was motivated to apply to be a Global Hero to raise awareness. “The publicity may help medical staff and the public be aware that there are an increasing number of genetic causes for sudden death.”
“It was a cool sunny spring morning in Green Bay, Wisconsin,” recalls Greenawald. “The type of morning that someone who was a true running fanatic lived for in the spring. It was warm enough finally that you didn’t need two or three layers of clothing and it was cool enough that you would not overheat on the run. So with great anticipation I laced up my shoes and headed out the door for a 10 mile run.
“As I started the run I almost instantly knew that this was going to be the type of day that many of us runners dream about. I was strong, my stride was smooth and my lungs felt great. I was in the zone. I finished the run in almost a dead sprint and when I stopped my watch it was my fastest time I had ever done on that route. Then the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital with doctors and nurses working frantically all around me. Right after finishing the run of my life, I went into a sustained episode of ventricular tachycardia.”
Without warning Greenawald’s life changed forever. After a series of tests, his doctor told him that it was not a matter of “if” it would happen again but a matter of “when”. The next day, an ICD was implanted in his chest.
“If it was not for this technology, I would never have had the confidence to even try to start running again,” Greenawald notes. “My heart condition and my experience with the ICD is something that I would not wish on anyone and one that I would not change in my life, even if I could, because of what it has taught me about myself and the different opportunities that it has given me.”
Although she was born with heart defects and had her first corrective surgery as a child, it never prevented Greenaway from leading a very full and exciting life.
“I was blessed with great parents who encouraged me to explore my own physical limits and push the boundaries of what others thought I was capable of, an attitude which has stood me in good stead ever since,” she states.
Still, Greenaway didn’t try running until she was 19, but quickly began to love it and was soon cycling and swimming, too. “I am definitely not talented or physically gifted, but the joy of movement and activity makes me feel alive, and thus drives away the inevitable worries and pressures of life.”
In 2003, she began to experience worrying symptoms and came back under the care of the cardiology team at a local hospital. “My lack of follow-up for over ten years had definitely contributed to deterioration in my heart function, and my damaged pulmonary valve was found to be leaking very badly,” she recalls.
“It was almost with a sense of relief that I had another open heart surgery in 2005, and am now the proud owner of a homograft pulmonary valve. My valve has helped give me a new lease on life and helped me to go back to my previously athletic lifestyle.
“I am proof that a cardiac diagnosis, whether congenital or acquired, does not necessarily preclude living an active lifestyle, and indeed it can be seen as an important part of acceptance and recovery.”
Hueholt’s headaches began during her senior year in high school as she was “experiencing the roller-coaster of emotions that comes along near the end of one's high school journey -- excitement over plans for prom and graduation balanced with the stress of college applications and SAT's.”
She was quick to attribute her discomfort to the flurry of activity and anxiety she was going through but as her headaches increased in frequency and severity, her gait became clumsy and she became confused and forgetful.
“For many months I tried to downplay my symptoms to my family and friends but secretly I was terrified,” she states. “Though I had long suspected that something was seriously wrong, the diagnosis of obstructive hydrocephalus due to a mass near my pineal gland came as a complete shock. At a time in youth during which most people feel invincible, I was devastated to learn that I would have to deal with a VP shunt for the rest of my life.”
Over time Hueholt’s life gradually returned to normal, and after her body adjusted to her shunt, her father began inviting her to join him on his runs. She is now a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry and hopes “to be one of the pioneers that will help to improve people’s lives with my contributions to the fields of science and technology.”
“Before the surgery, I never could have imagined that I would be able to live such an active life with a shunt,” she notes. And for this -- with every step in life and each stride in my running shoes -- I will be extremely grateful."
“Before being diagnosed with Left Ventricular Non Compaction (LVNC) life was completely different for me,” states Kamrath. “I was a college cross-country runner whose daily mission was to get faster then the day before. For me, running was a big part of my identity.”
But unusual fatigue and extreme high and low heart beats were early signals that something wasn’t right. Unable to diagnose a specific problem, Kamrath’s doctors cleared him to run in his conference cross-country championship meet, where he blacked out after two miles due to an irregular heartbeat.
Shortly thereafter, he received an ICD. “When my cardiologist recommended I receive a defibrillator I was a little skeptical at first,” he admits. “But once I thought about it I knew it was the right thing to do. This is something that has made life easier for everyone in my life: wife, parents, sister, friends, etc. Without this device, each day would truly have more worries then joys. Now, I prefer to fill my days with joy and laughter, and of course, running.”
Today, Kamrath helps other runners as a high school and cross-country coach. He also volunteers at Camp Odayin, a program for kids with heart disease, and last year ran 26 miles on his 26th birthday to raise money for the camp.
“People often tell me that I don’t look like I should have a pacemaker,” states Kumasaka. “What does a person with a pacemaker look like? They look like me, you, our hero and our neighbors, I want be an example that all ages, shapes and sizes can be helped with this technology.”
Powerful words from a mother of three whose life was slowed by unexplained exhaustion just a few years ago. At the age of 38, Kumasaka’s doctor decided to monitor her heart with a holter monitor and discovered a heart block had been recorded on multiple episodes as well as tachycardia on exertion and after episodes.
She was immediately referred to an electrocardiologist who recommended implanting a dual chamber pacemaker.
“I immediately felt better, and I haven’t had a black-out experience since my pacemaker was implanted in 2003,” she notes. “I felt so much more energetic that I took up running again which I hadn’t done since junior high school. I have now completed seven marathons and numerous halves, and even placed second in my age group in one of the races.
“I am an excellent example how a pacemaker can return a quality of life that has been lost through heart anomalies. Sharing my story with others may encourage them to reach for their goals, dream big and keep on trying.”
A veteran of 53 marathons, including three ultra marathons, Lee’s running came to a sudden end when he was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a progressive degeneration of the spine.
“I am a retired Air Force Colonel, and running was my life - even running five miles to and from work while stationed in California,” he states. “As the condition worsened, my passion for running remained, yet my body became a barrier. The chronic pain was so severe at times I could hardly get out of bed. Long distance running was out of the question.
“I tried injections, four operations, and just about every medicine available. Finally my surgeon recommended a Medtronic spinal stimulator. It has changed my quality of life. My times are slower now, but I don't ever plan to quit. I ran my first marathon in 1971 and now proudly affix my age to my shirt as I run, wanting others to know that they, too, can stay healthy and active well into their senior years. Don't let anything slow you down!”
Minnix-Wolfe’s doctor caught her off guard during her annual physical on her 40th birthday when she suggested that she visit a cardiologist. “I've always looked at myself as being one of the healthiest people I know,” she states.
Shortly thereafter, the long-time runner began having syncope attacks on almost a weekly basis. “It seemed that whenever I slowed down and relaxed, I passed out, but as long as I was constantly on the go, which was usually the case, I was fine,” she recalls.
“Being a competitive runner and triathlete for over 30 years, the thought that something might be seriously wrong with me or my heart was unthinkable. I wasn't like Jim Fixx. I didn't have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. My resting heart rate was 35! I ran through two pregnancies, running the day I gave birth and the day immediately after without a break. I qualified for and competed in the Women's Olympic marathon trials. How could I possibly have a heart problem?”
Further testing led to surgery to implant a pacemaker. “The hardest thing for me to accept was that as healthy as I was, there could still be life-threatening issues with my body,” Minnix-Wolfe adds.
“Having the pacemaker has given me the confidence that I won't have these fainting spells. I've had three pacemakers implanted, and have not had any recurrences of the syncope. More importantly, I have been able to continue to run and race, which is an important part of who I am. My pacemaker has simply become part of me and I rarely even remember that I have it. I have been able to continue running and racing. Without it, I don't know what I would do.”
Before being diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia, Noguchi was frustrated by bouts of sudden drowsiness during the day and fatigue when he exercised.
“When I participated in a marathon, I had no choice but to slow down and start walking, and bear the frustration of being passed by elderly runners who were barely running,” he states. “Thanks to my treatment, including a pacemaker for bradycardia, I am now able to be as active as I used to be prior to my diagnosis.”
Since receiving his pacemaker, Noguchi has run extremely close to his personal best and completed a full marathon last fall.
“More than ever, I relish being healthy to run,” he adds.
Thanks to his insulin pump, running a marathon in 3:30 – a time that was previously just a dream – became Pagani’s target at the 2008 Milan marathon.
“I can fine tune the delivery of insulin into my body during the race,” he explains. “In addition, with real time glucose monitoring I just take a look to my insulin pump screen and I am aware of my glucose level.
“My device has [helped me to] improve my performances. In a broad sense it also makes me feel more like all other people in the world, despite my chronic disease.”
Pagani’s motivation to become a Global Hero stems from a feeling that he is just the opposite. “I have not any superpower, I am an ordinary man with ordinary problems. But I want to tell all my diabetic fellows that they should never feel inferior. Today our disease is very well managed by advances in technology. We can race in many contests... not only in sport, but in the field of life.”
“A Medtronic insulin pump has changed my life. I have always had a love of sports and outdoor activity but until I received my pump I felt helpless to unlock my true ability and experience everything I wanted,” states Sneller, who was diagnosed with diabetes 18 years ago.
With his move to insulin pump therapy six years ago, he began running and has embraced endurance activities and high intensity, high-speed short distance races alike. Today, logging an average of 45 miles a week, he is setting personal bests in distances from the 5K to the marathon.
“I am on a mission to help others lead an active lifestyle,” Sneller adds. “I am the manager for a local specialty running store where reaching out into the community and helping others get moving is one of our core values. I have had the opportunity to speak with other diabetics to let them know the possibilities that lie in front of them.”
When she was diagnosed with diabetes in 1985, Thurm’s first concern was how she would continue participating in sports.
“All my life I always had a passion for all kinds of sports such as running, parachuting, inline skating, football, handball, climbing, tennis and swimming,” she states, adding that it didn’t take long to realize that “I was not going to make it with the conventional insulin injections.”
“Whenever I think about exercising with diabetes, I do not see diabetes as a handicap, but rather as a condition that is to be managed by adjusting the therapy to fit my needs. My insulin pump allows me to do that.
“Living with diabetes is a kind of partnership on a give-and-take basis. Because I am able to treat my partner so well, my partner rewards me in return: I did not have any severe low blood sugar levels in the past 25 years. However to maintain this relationship, you have to treat your partner properly every hour, day, week, month and year of your life. I can do this with the help of my insulin pump.”
Helping other diabetic patients plays an important part in Thurm’s life. Since the late 1980s, she has worked as a diabetes educator, founded a German chapter of the DESA/IDAA (Diabetes and Exercise Association) and is a member of the international Board of DESA. She has written two books: one about insulin pump therapy and one about diabetes and exercise. She has also organized different events for athletes with diabetes.
As a young patient, Berry would like others to know that heart disease is non-discriminatory to age, race or creed. Diagnosed at 25 with a birth defect, she had surgery to replace a heart valve.
“Since my surgery, I've had an amazing life,” Berry states. “With the new valve, I have better endurance and don't get winded or pass out after walking less than a 1/4 mile. I have better blood flow, so my legs and arms aren't cold all the time, and for the first time in 26 years, I actually was able to blush.
“I look back to how things were before my surgery, and I didn't realize how much of my life was affected. When I ran before all of this I would have to take a break slow down, and what I thought were just chest pains brought on by running, were actually warning signs of what was to come.”
Since her surgery, Berry has become an advocate for other heart patients and an active member of Mended Hearts, Mended Little Hearts and the American Heart Association in Tucson.
“I love talking to people, and over the last several years I have been honored to share my story with doctors and the wonderful people in my community,” she notes, adding that her biggest honor is yet to come when she will be the Survivor Speaker at the Heart Ball and 50th anniversary celebration of the Tucson Chapter of the American Heart Association.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 2, Burrack has “been on insulin replacement therapy virtually my entire life. I have been managing my diabetes on my own since approximately the second grade, performing blood sugar monitoring, determining insulin dosage, and giving myself injections.”
Despite having diabetes, Burrack competed in various sports while growing up, from baseball to basketball to track and, his favorite, cross country running. “I was the captain of my high school cross country and track teams while managing my diabetes using the exchange system for estimating food intake and injecting insulins,” he states. “Going onto the insulin pump in July 2002 helped me to manage my disease well enough to compete at the NCAA division III level for UW-Stout in both cross country and track.”
Since completing his undergraduate degree, Burrack has devoted his graduate studies to diabetes. His master’s thesis research at UW - La Crosse centered on the idea of aerobic exercise as an anti-inflammatory adjunct to traditional insulin-replacement therapy for Type 1 diabetes. This fall, he begins a Ph.D. program where he plans to study the molecular events leading to, and resulting from, the autoimmune response that leads to the development of Type 1 diabetes.
“The more we understand about this process, the more rational ideas for treating the root cause of autoimmunity we can generate. I plan on a career in teaching and research, with the long-term goal of my research contributing to improving the quality of life of individuals with type 1 diabetes.”
A runner from the age of 6, Disinbaev grew up competing in sports and representing his school at local running events. But in recent years, he had become frustrated by chronic fatigue and his inability to “cope with the academic and sports activities that I love so much.”
Since having a pacemaker implanted a year ago, Disinbaev once again enjoys a normal teenage life no longer scared that his next fainting attack will signal the stopping of his heart.
“My parents enjoy ‘peace of heart’ while I can enjoy a teenager’s pace of life, participate in active sports and outing events, and get lots of things accomplished on time,” he states. “Three months after the procedure was done I was back on my athletic team, and six months following it we became number one in the contest of Moscow athletic running teams.”
His experience has prompted Disinbaev to reach out to other young patients. “When my parents and I go to see my doctor and we meet kids with the same diagnosis in hospital, we always talk to them and to their parents. We explain that their sons and daughters can live normal lives with pacemakers. We give them my example: I go to school, I go out with friends, I am still in sports, I participate in competitions, and I even win! The life goes on!
“We are fortunate to live at a time when technology and medicine can bring us back the things in life that we enjoy.”
An epileptic and Type 1 diabetic, Foskuhl credits medical technology for providing a certain sense of control that has “directly influenced my quality of life and my joy of running.”
Despite the challenge of dual diseases, he continues to run and refuses to give up hope.
“For the last 11 years I have battled epilepsy. After the use of 10 different medications and over three years with Vagus nerve stimulation, I am still not seizure free. Yet, I continue to search for ways to rid myself of seizures. I am participating as a subject in a clinical study and had a neurostimulator device implanted to study whether the device can reduce or eliminate my seizures.
Foskuhl shows the same tenacity when treating his diabetes. “I have found that controlling my glucose level requires consistent work, but this effort is very worthwhile. My hard work and my insulin pump are helping me with the diabetic battle.”
A runner for 20 years, Herrera Atienza started because of his love of sports. He began cycling semi-professionally at the age of 12 and eventually segued into triathlons.
He received his insulin pump two years ago, and says, “It has allowed me to adapt and personalize, with speed and efficiency, my insulin treatment in the days prior as well as the day of my competition to help avoid risks of hypoglycemia and improve my results.”
Today, Herrera Atienza teaches physical education courses for people with diabetes and likes to show others that “having diabetes does not represent an obstacle I today’s world. It is another reason to motivate yourself to train, take care of yourself and live a 100-percent healthier life.”
Hicks began running in high school as a way to stay in shape and continued with the sport as a member of the military. Unfortunately, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, a painful nerve disorder, eventually prevented him from continuing with the sport.
“After each run I would deal with burning, intense pain that would put me down for days,” he states. “I went for six years dealing with this pain before having a spinal cord stimulator implanted in 2004. Since that time, I literally have gotten my life back.”
Still, his life took “a turn for the surreal” he says, when he lost his left leg blow the knee in May of 2008.
“I was very adamant before the surgery that I would run again on a running prosthetic,” he recalls. “After recovering from the amputation, the nerve problem that led to it is alive and well, but with the stimulator managing my pain I am once again able to carry on with my life.”
Hicks’ summer training will be supplemented by four triathlons, including the New York City triathlon in July.
He hopes that his selection as a Global Hero will “show others with RSD that there is hope if you’re willing to challenge yourself and dare to become a different person.
“There is also no question how positive an impact the friends of mine who are amputees have had helping me realize that it is just the beginning of a new life. I want to be that example for those with RSD that life, although it may be painful at times, truly is worth living again.”
As Houghton describes it, “I went from flat line to the finish line in 6 months.”
A certified personal trainer and third-generation runner, Houghton’s heart stopped in January 2005, just hours after he taught a health club spin class. “My daughter revived me once at home, and my wife four to five more times at the hospital,” he recalls. (Houghton’s wife is a nurse.)
Shortly thereafter Houghton received a pacemaker. He began training again within six weeks and crossed the finish line of the USA Triathlon Paralympic National Championships just six months later. Since then, he has successfully competed in several Olympic distance triathlons and one half Ironman triathlon.
Prior to his heart incident, Houghton competed in more than 200 road races, 75 Triathlons and dozens of cross-country ski races.
Today he shares his story with his personal training clients and with cardiac rehab patients at the fitness center where he works. “My life has always been about fitness and helping others attain a healthier life style. Not to mention personally being an example of getting over the hurdles that life might throw at you.”
“On June 1, 2008, I suffered sudden cardiac arrest approaching the finish line of a 10K race in Steamboat Springs, CO. Concerned about the possibility of recurrent episodes of ventricular tachycardia, my doctors implanted an ICD the following November,” Jongeling states.
“My ICD gives me the confidence to train and to live my life fully. Without it, the fear of a recurrence of ventricular tachycardia would surely inhibit my effort and, more importantly, would cast a pall over my entire life. I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in an age where such life-saving and life-giving technology is available.”
Since his collapse, Jongeling has shared his story in the hopes that others will understand the importance of lifestyle changes and medical procedures and tests that may detect unknown problems.
Prior to receiving her pacemaker in August 2001, Kelley often felt lightheaded and tired. The symptoms heightened when she became pregnant with her first child and grew worse after the baby was born.
On the recommendation of her doctor, she wore a heart monitor for 24 hours and was alarmed to discover that “my heart was not beating anywhere from eight to 12 seconds.” Twelve weeks after giving birth to her son, she was back in the hospital having a pacemaker implanted.
A runner since high school, Kelley’s excellent physical condition helped mask her condition. “I am lucky to be alive, as I was light headed many times in situations that could have been tragic such as driving a car,” she notes.
“I am so very thankful to be here today to tell my story. If my internal medicine doctor had not diagnosed my condition, I cannot say that would be the case. I am eternally grateful for him and the medical technology that has enabled me to enjoy all that life has to offer.”
When O’Malley began exercising regularly in his early thirties, he noticed a constant shortness of breath. He discussed his concerns with his doctor, who opted to run a series of tests in part because O’Malley was also a survivor of Hodgkin’s disease.
Initial abnormalities led to more tests and finally a definitive diagnosis -- Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), Level II. O’Malley recalls asking himself, “How could this happen to me?”
“I was a healthy 33 year-old with no history of heart issues and more importantly, my wife and I were expecting our first child. I heard term CHF in the past, but it was often associated with the elderly. I asked myself more than once; what are the odds of a 33 year-old getting cancer and CHF?”
But O’Malley was determined to deal with his diagnosis head on. In August of 2005, he had an ICD implanted.
“Throughout 2006, I occasionally pondered my diagnosis, but made it my mission to strengthen my heart muscle through proper diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. I decided to use running as the means of gauging my success.”
Positive check-ups in 2007 led O’Malley to set a goal of completing a half marathon, which he did on a beautiful fall morning in November of 2008.
“Running serves as my personal barometer for health and my ICD gives me the confidence and ‘insurance policy’ to continue my training and passion for running. I have my daily reminders of CHF including shortness of breath and the visual outline of the ICD in my chest, but my daily reminders of living life are so much more powerful.”
Tsuchitori first began running when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 25 years ago.
“I was told that regular exercise would help me manage my diabetes,” she recalls. “Although I quickly became hooked on running, exercise seemed to complicate my diabetes management.
“At that time I was on multiple daily injections. My diabetes seemed to control me - dictating when and what to eat, when to exercise and how much I could do. All that changed sixteen years ago when I got my first insulin pump.”
Since receiving her insulin pump Tsuchitori has participated in numerous races, ranging from 10Ks, to a 10-mile run around the rim of a volcano, a half-marathon up and over the Kolekole Pass through the Waianae mountains, and a two-day relay around the island of Oahu.
“I have been thrilled to finish near the top of my age group in these races,” she says. “But the best part of my life made possible by the pump has nothing to do with sports: my three wonderful children born healthy, at full-term, after uneventful, uncomplicated pregnancies.”
Today her 9-year-old son provides extra motivation; he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of two. “I want to show my son and others with diabetes that with the proper tools and knowledge, diabetes need not limit you in striving to reach your potential.”
A fervent advocate for people with diabetes, Tsuchitori and her son field a large team at an annual diabetes walk that raises funds for research. In the last 7 years, their team has raised more than $50,000.
Originally opposed to insulin pump therapy – “Why would I want a ‘thing’ attached to me 24 hours a day, everyday?” – Zelez changed her mind when she and her husband decided to start a family.
“I knew I had to get my diabetes under the tightest control that I could,” she states, adding that her medical team suggested that she try an insulin pump. Within 18 months, she gave birth to healthy twins.
Shortly thereafter, she began running. “I figured if I could be a mom to twins, I could run…if only a little bit. About 3 mornings a week I would load up the double jogging stroller and out we would go for a run. Short runs turned into longer runs, and soon I found myself training for a half-marathon. After completing 5 half marathons I decided I was ready to tackle a full marathon.”
Zelez signed up with Team Diabetes Canada in 2006, raised over $9000 for diabetes research, and ran the Honolulu marathon. Since then she has completed 3 more half marathons.
“If I did not have the technology of my insulin pump I don't think I would be a runner,” she notes, adding that her definition of a Global Hero is a person who “has the freedom to live life to the fullest despite medical challenges.”