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.
Jonas Alpsten has always been an avid runner. When he was diagnosed with diabetes at age 30, he wanted to prove to himself and others that diabetes would not define him. For years, he continued to compete in long distance running events, but his glucose levels were constantly fluctuating. In 1994, seven years after being diagnosed with diabetes, he received his first insulin pump, which he says helped transform his running experience. He completed his first marathon with the pump just a year later.
Jonas and his wife have now completed 27 marathons. He monitors his glucose level throughout the races and uses his insulin pump to help keep his levels stable. For Jonas, running is easy. It is something he can do wherever he is, in any season, by himself or with a running club. It is a way to help him take care of himself and see the world.
Jonas’ advice for people who are diagnosed with diabetes: “Nothing is impossible.”
Russell Bestley was training to compete in his first marathon when he was diagnosed with partial sinus node block in his heart. He was fitted with a pacemaker, and after six weeks of recuperation, began running again. He competed in the London Marathon just four months later, realizing that with his pacemaker, distance running was not a thing of the past. Now 49, he has completed 50 marathons.
Russell uses his experience and passion for running to inspire others to pursue an active lifestyle, no matter what setbacks they face. He is a marathon coach and helped to found a support network, the Cardiac Athletes, that provides online peer support for international athletes of all ages and abilities who have experienced cardiac health problems.
Russell’s message to other athletes with cardiac issues: “Don't give up running or an active lifestyle. Tell your doctors that you want to continue to exercise and ask them to support you in your ambitions.”
When Lindsey Burch was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age nine, it never occurred to her that she should stop running or competing. For the past eleven years, she has pursued the sports and activities she loves, with the help of an insulin pump and glucose sensor. With the sensor and insulin pump, Lindsey says she is able to put more effort into her races and outdoor activities and less of her energy into managing her blood sugars.
As a sixth grade teacher, Lindsey uses her own stories of perseverance with diabetes and athletics to inspire her students to overcome their individual challenges. She has also shared her experiences with teenage girls struggling to manage their own diabetes and remain active.
As a Global Hero, Lindsey hopes to “inspire others who may have physical and medical challenges to overcome life’s hurdles and shoot for the stars.”
William Clotfelter is a career firefighter and lifelong runner. Since being diagnosed with an A/V block and bradycardia in 2008, William has pursued his love of running while wearing a pacemaker. William has always loved running for the way it makes him feel and for his personal health.
Last year, he decided to tap into this passion for running to help others. While training for a long-distance race, William discovered that the distance between the 19 city firehouses in Buffalo equated exactly to the distance of a marathon. That course became his inspiration. And on September 18, 2011, just weeks before the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, William and firefighters from across Buffalo, New York competeed in the first ever Buffalo Firefighters Stampede, a marathon organized by William to raise money for the International Association of Firefighters Burn Foundation. The runners who had previously never considered running a marathon, will join together for their health and a great cause.
William’s advice for others who encounter a heart problem: “Address the problem and take the advice of your doctors. If the recommendation is for a pacemaker, that's an option you should consider.”
When Carolina “Callie” Dimsdale was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome at age 16, she felt as if her life as an athlete was gone. After her diagnosis, Carolina’s swimming career was hindered by the possibility of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, a fear she says eventually cost her a spot on her college swim team. Not willing to give up, Callie sought the advice of a physician who recommended an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a device she says helps her exercise and train for triathlons and marathons with peace of mind. Carolina’s experience led her to become a cardiac nurse and she is working toward her Master's in Nursing with plans to specialize in cardiology.
Callie’s advice to other young people with Long QT Syndrome: “Don’t have the mindset of a victim — you are also a survivor! Build a support system in your family/spouse, continue to live life and do what you love to do, be educated about your condition and your device (this is empowering!), and have a “shock plan” in preparation for a possible defibrillation.”
After the birth of her third daughter, Kathleen Hammett suffered from ongoing urinary retention problems that caused constant discomfort. During this trying time, Kathleen was also diagnosed with breast cancer. That is when she discovered running. It was her outlet for mental and emotional healing. Kathleen ran throughout her treatment, however the catheters she used to control her bladder made her self conscious and caused infections. She wanted to continue running, but needed to address her urinary retention problems. When Kathleen’s doctor introduced her to the implantable neurostimulation system and discussed its potential risks and benefits, she said she felt hope. After the implant, Kathleen’s symptoms were relieved, and most importantly, she felt like a regular mom again.
Kathleen’s advice for women living with bladder control issues: “If the only option your physician is offering you is catheters, you need a new doctor!”
Three years ago, Roger Hanney was training to run his first half-marathon when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. While he didn’t run that race, he has gone on to run numerous distance races on road and trail, including five marathons and five 60-mile+ ultramarathons. He is currently training to run his first 100-mile race in November 2011. Roger uses an insulin pump and glucose monitor during his runs to check and maintain his glucose levels. Through his device, and the advice of diabetic sports nutritionists and coaches, Roger continues to gain confidence in his ability to manage his diabetes and compete as an “ultrarunner.”
For Roger, running is everything. It is pain, release, exhaustion, challenge, and transformation. He sees running many more races in the future and continues to set goals to run even farther.
Roger’s advice for people living with type 1 diabetes: “If people keep telling you that you can't do something, then you’re talking to the wrong people.”
After 30 years as a runner, Haim Leibovich was training for his first marathon when a routine exercise stress test identified a severe narrowing of his coronary arteries. Haim underwent a cardiac catheterization to have stents implanted to prevent blockage. Inspired by the story of Israeli journalist and athlete, Yossi Melman, Haim was back to running eight days later. Since receiving his devices, Haim has a newfound joy and appreciation for running. He has completed his first marathon and several half marathons, saying he feels healthier than ever.
Haim’s advice to cardiac athletes: “Continue running or start running carefully. I believe that running has saved me from being in a much worse medical condition. I am in excellent physical shape, I feel great, and I believe that running will help me stay that way.”
Erica Minner suffered her first grand mal seizure as a freshman in college, where she was a starting player for the Muskingum University softball team. Throughout college, she continued to suffer from seizures while her doctors searched for a diagnosis. Despite doctors’ concerns, Erica turned to running as a way to prove to her medical team that she could continue to pursue athletics.
Ultimately, Erica completed her college career as the winningest pitcher in Division III softball history. And, in the end, Erica’s doctors concluded that a cardiovascular problem was causing her seizures and recommended a pacemaker. During her first check-up after the procedure, Erica told the doctor she had set her sights on running a marathon.
With the support of her friends and colleagues, she has since run several marathons, including qualifying for, and running in, the Boston Marathon. Erica is now a teacher and high school cross country running team coach, serving as a mentor and role model to the 80 girls on her team. She runs with her athletes daily, demonstrating that hard work, motivation, discipline, and perseverance can lead to great rewards.
Brian Nash ran without problems for several years after he was initially diagnosed with aortic stenosis. When his heart valve worsened in 2010, he says he would get lightheaded and dizzy, even during brisk walks. Brian underwent surgery to replace his valve. Six weeks following the surgery, he was able to start running again. He completed his first marathon just eight months after his valve replacement. Now, Brian is training to get back to his pre-surgery race time and is happy to be back pursuing the activities he loves.
Brian actively participates in an international internet forum called Cardiac Athletes. The forum is a venue for athletes with cardiac problems, who have resumed athletic pursuits, to share stories and inspire each other.
Brian’s advice to other athletes with cardiac issues: “The most important thing is to realize that a cardiac condition does not mean an end to participation in athletic events.”
Kate Nguyen suffered sudden cardiac arrest at the finish line of a half marathon. She survived, but as a young runner, the resulting diagnosis of Long QT Syndrome left her terrified of having another event…until she received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). As she recovered from her surgery, she says she learned to trust her ICD.
When it came time to register for the same half-marathon where she had suffered her cardiac arrest, she knew she needed to face her fear if she was ever going to run again. She completed that race, and then challenged herself to complete her first marathon. Rather than viewing her cardiac arrest as a negative event in her life, Kate is grateful for her second chance at life. Her experience with sudden cardiac arrest has shaped who she is and gives her a new appreciation for running.
Kate’s advice to others who have suffered cardiac arrest: “Get educated about your condition and your device and don't be afraid. You are not alone. Keep moving. You are not a diagnosis or a condition; you are the same person you were before the diagnosis.”
Ania Ritter lives with neurocardiogenic (vasovagal) syncope, a condition that can cause her heart to suddenly stop beating while exercising. Ania has always been a runner — it is part of how she defines herself and builds friendships. Before Ania was fitted with her first pacemaker, she ran in constant fear of waking up on the sidewalk with a head injury after fainting because her heart stopped beating on a run. Running had become a danger to her health and she faced with the prospect of living without running, or living with the known danger of fainting.
Since Ania received her pacemaker in 2001, she says she has lived without worrying that she might faint while running. Ania’s medical device allows her to live her life.
Ania’s advice: “Continue working with doctors until you have an answer…A pacemaker helped me. It's worth all of the testing to no longer live in fear.”
Francisco Sanchez was diagnosed with diabetes eleven years ago. Two weeks after his diagnosis, he started running at the suggestion of his doctor. He discovered a love for athletics and running became his passion.
For years, Francisco struggled to manage his glucose levels while running. Today, he uses an insulin pump to help control his glucose, which he says makes it easier for him to compete in distance races. Since he started running 11 years ago, Francisco has completed 21 marathons. Francisco runs with team Diatlétic (Spanish Diabetes Foundation), a group of Spanish athletes with diabetes who run to show that diabetes does not prevent them from living their dreams.
Francisco’s advice for people living with diabetes: “You can have a normal life as a diabetic. You can achieve any dream or target you have in mind because it’s possible.”
Emily Bredehoft has lived in a state of constant pain for 13 years following a workplace accident that left her with a life-changing back injury. After her accident, she says walking and running were part of her rehabilitation, and activities that provided her freedom despite the pain. But eventually the pain became debilitating and the running stopped. She struggled to find treatments and medications to control the pain.
Six years after the accident, Emily was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and a spinal cord stimulator was implanted to help manage her pain. After recovering from her surgery, she completed the Disneyland Half-Marathon only six weeks later, surprising family and friends. A year later, her spinal cord stimulation was modified to also manage pain in her upper extremity. With her pain under control, she says she could run fully again, running 10 half-marathons last year and setting a personal best time.
She says the neurostimulator gave her life back. She is able to walk, run, work, and complete normal daily activities without debilitating pain. As a social worker, she shares her experiences with others living with chronic pain.
Emily’s advice: “I want to give people with chronic pain hope that there’s a treatment out there that may help relieve their suffering and restore their lives. I want to inspire them to continue to search for the treatment that is right for them.”
John Dunn has always believed in living a fit and healthy life. He began running at age 30, and continues running to this day alongside his wife, a running coach, and the woman who saved him by performing CPR when he experienced sudden cardiac arrest.
Following his cardiac arrest, John received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). Just six months after receiving his ICD, he completed a half-marathon. He says his ICD has given him, as well as his family and friends, the peace of mind to continue to live a full and active life that includes running.
John’s advice to people who have survived cardiac arrest: “Appreciate the gift of life you’ve been given. Choose to live your life without fear.”
Lindsay Gossack, a young woman who loved competitive running, was devastated when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just before finishing her senior year of high school. She then stopped running completely. The task of trying to manage her diabetes took precedence over exercise. And when she did try to run, her glucose levels repeatedly plummeted.
In August 2008, Lindsay started using an insulin pump and she says her hypoglycemic episodes all but disappeared. She started running again. The insulin pump allowed her to adjust her glucose levels before and during her runs to help prevent hypoglycemia. Lindsay ran her first marathon a year later. Since then, she has completed another full marathon, numerous half marathons, and many shorter distance races. Lindsay is passionate about diabetes advocacy and education, and is involved in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the Seattle area. She shares her experiences with other diabetic athletes.
Lindsay’s advice for others living with type 1 diabetes: “Don't let your diabetes define you, limit you, or decide your dreams.”
Throughout David Hoffman’s life, his congenital heart disorder prevented him from participating in competitive sports, but it did not stop him from running. That is, until eleven years ago when he noticed he could barely walk the gentle hills in his neighborhood without getting lightheaded.
It was then that David decided to undergo heart valve replacement surgery. After his surgery and subsequent recovery, David gradually began running again. He completed his first half marathon after being inspired by his daughter’s distance running. And every year after that first half marathon, he has looked for new races to train for and new milestones to reach. As a neonatal physician, David uses his story to inspire families during difficult times.
David’s advice: “Stay in the moment and keep moving.”
Husøy has a pacemaker to treat a heart arrhythmia.
Terje Husøy found himself fighting for survival in the summer of 2004, diagnosed with heart failure. He was implanted with a biventricular pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). While recovering in the hospital, he thought he would never run again.
But as his conditioning improved, he began training again; first, by walking around his hospital bed and then down the hospital corridor. His doctor encouraged him to exercise and continues to advise him on how far to push his exercise level. Last year, after six years of gradual recovery, Terje completed his first distance race. He also is playing soccer with a local team.
Terje says his heart condition and medical device gave him a new outlook on life. He went back to school, completed his degree, works as an auditor, and is attending college courses. He also is actively involved in a patient group that supports people with lung and heart disease.
Terje’s advice: “Challenge fear and anxiety by starting training. Start easy — baby steps philosophy — and find something you like to do. Be very happy for even very small progress. Celebrate life and don’t worry too much.”
Julio, a lifelong athlete, has lived with type 1 diabetes for 36 years. It was difficult for him to control his glucose levels, especially during athletic events. Yet as an athlete, he suffered many hypoglycemic events, that he says didn’t stop him. He always looked to the future. In 2009, Julio received an insulin pump to help manage his diabetes. Today, he says his insulin pump helps him better control his glucose levels before, during, and after running, soccer, swimming, and biking.
As a doctor treating patients living with diabetes, Julio believes his experience with the insulin pump technology has turned him into a better person and doctor. His medical and athletic experience helps him inspire his diabetic patients to live a normal life.
Julio’s advice for others living with diabetes: “Listen to your doctor, your nutritionist, and your parents. They want a good future for you. Be happy.”
Julie Manning was an avid endurance runner before she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. She then lived in fear that something bad would happen to her heart during exercise. She says her implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) has given her the confidence to begin running and training again, allowing her to enjoy the same activities she loved prior to her diagnosis. As she completed her first jog with her ICD, Julie cried tears of joy, knowing that she was able to run and would not be restricted by her heart condition. For Julie, completing a marathon is a physical, mental, and spiritual journey that represents her life journey living with an arrhythmia.
As a nurse practitioner working in pediatric cardiology, Julie shares her story with coworkers and patients. As a volunteer for Championship Hearts Foundation, Julie supports screening of high school athletes for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with the hopes of decreasing the number of high school athletes who experience sudden cardiac death.
Julie’s advice: “Appreciate each day, viewing every moment as a gift and a blessing — which it is! Don't allow the diagnosis to consume you. Live life with a purpose of impacting others.”
Prior to his heart attack in July of 2000, Michael Nall had never run more than four miles at one time. He was an occasional exerciser. Following a heart attack and placement of a stent, Michael began a quest to improve his health and lifestyle.
Three years later, he finished his first five mile race. The following year, he ran a 10 mile race. Now, he competes in races across the country. In 2010, Michael was instrumental in starting the Heart Education And Rehabilitation Team (H.E.A.R.T), a nonprofit organization committed to educating people about heart conditions and helping them maximize their athletic potential. His message through H.E.A.R.T. is that heart problems are not the end of the road, just the beginning.
Michael’s advice: “While everyone’s medical situation is unique, don’t give in. Many people assume that, in a negative way, life will never be the same. Turn that around and make certain that life is never the same again, but in a positive way. Look at it as an opportunity to examine your life and a chance to turn it in a new direction.”
Heidi Owen was a three-sport high school athlete and went on to compete for the University of Minnesota Track and Field Team. However, it was during her college years that she suffered a cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome. Determined not to let life slow her down, Owen received an ICD in 2004, and has since run two marathons and two half marathons (as well as gotten married and had two children).
Due in part to her own medical history, Owen went on to become a cardiac nurse to help others in her own situation. In fact, she recently started a new job as the Long QT Syndrome RN Coordinator at Mayo Clinic's Long QT Syndrome clinic.
Heidi’s advice: “Long QT Syndrome is definitely life changing, but you should just focus on finding your new normal. You don’t have to live your life in fear. Educate yourself about the disease because knowledge is power. Finding a healthcare provider that is very familiar and well educated on Long QT is vital as well. They can help you make treatment decisions that are best for your specific condition, whether that be medication, surgery, or an implantable defibrillator.”
Gary Pauley has always enjoyed running, competing year after year in five and ten kilometer races to stay fit. Two years ago, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he almost gave up the sport he loved. Instead, he recommitted himself to running to help him live with the disease.
Last year, Gary had surgery to implant a deep brain stimulator to help treat symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease. With the brain stimulator, he says he is able to move more freely, to work and train. Five months after the surgery, he ran his first half-marathon. And he is currently learning to swim — at age 48 — in order to compete in his first triathlon. Gary does not let his age or disease define who he is. While he cannot reverse the symptoms of the disease, he says his deep brain stimulator gives him the confidence and hope that he needs to push through the difficult times. Gary shares his experiences with others through patient groups in South Dakota.
Gary’s advice: “Don't give up, live life to its fullest. There is always the hope for a new development or drug in our treatment. Let the disease become part of you, but don't let it define who you are!”
Francesca Polese was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes at age 17. Over time, Francesca began to neglect her diabetes and stopped exercising. She says when she eventually realized that her behavior was a threat to herself, and when she noticed that her quality of life was declining, she decided it was time to address her lifestyle.
It was at that time that Francesca received an insulin pump to help manage her diabetes. As soon as she started using the pump, she wondered how it had been possible for her to live without it. Then she started running. Running has given her a new attitude toward life and she says the insulin pump makes that possible, helping her control her glucose levels through races and long training runs. She participates in “Diabetes No Limits,” an organization of runners with type 1 Diabetes who race to raise awareness of diabetes.
Francesca’s advice to people living with type 1 diabetes: “Diabetes does NOT have to be a limit. Diabetes will not prevent you from achieving the goals you set for yourself. Just give your best and I’m sure you’ll make it.”
Ron Rubin has been running for more than 30 years. At the time of his sudden cardiac arrest, he had already completed seven marathons and was in the final days of training to run the 2009 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. A week later, Ron had surgery to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator device (ICD) implanted. While recovering from surgery, Ron discovered the Global Heroes program and was inspired by the individual stories of the runners in the program. He began running again and set his goal of competing in Medtronic Twin Cities Ten Mile race as a Global Hero.
As Chief Executive Officer of The Republic of Tea, Ron leads by example. He is an advocate for healthy living within his company and has established an employee wellness program. For Ron, medical technology allows him to maintain his goal of a healthy lifestyle.
Ron’s advice: “While following your doctor’s directives, try not to change your athletic lifestyle. Don't become inactive. Have patience, as it could take some time to get back to where you were prior.”