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.
Molly DiCroce is the definition of a fighter, with her first battle beginning in high school. Reluctant to give up on running when she was misdiagnosed with a pulled muscle, she fought through a limp for more than a year. She was eventually diagnosed with a torn labrum in her groin…but the limping caused her true injuries: an atrophied muscle, herniated disc, bulging disc and pinched sciatic nerve in her back.
After enduring years of her young adult life in overwhelming pain, DiCroce underwent a lumbar fusion. Though she was told it was unlikely she could ever run again, DiCroce looked to the hero in her life to build her confidence to begin again, her father.
DiCroce's father completed 31 marathons and 7 ironman competitions while battling brain cancer. "Every time I run, I think of him. I think if he can do it, I can do it. I feel so close to him when I run," she says.
With a family motto of "run, live, inspire," Jason Dunn seeks the support of his family to empower him to run. In 2008, at the age of 35, Dunn experienced a heart attack. His doctors placed a stent in his left anterior descending artery (LAD). Within weeks of his procedure, he and his wife completed a Valentine's Day four-mile run on their anniversary. His family dedicated themselves to Dunn's recovery as well, attending yoga, jogging, and striving for an overall healthier lifestyle.
Running together is part of the family's daily routine, and Dunn finds encouragement from his wife and two sons as they aspire to embody their family motto each day.
Gillian Forsyth started running a few years before the fateful day that she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 30, nearly one year to the date of finishing her first 10K race.
After her diagnosis, though, Forsyth struggled to balance her diabetes management, her demanding work life and her running schedule. In 2000, she received an insulin pump.
Forsyth believes running has defined who she is today: a strong, athletic person. Since her diagnosis she has completed more than 20 marathons. Never ceasing to seek out new challenges, she has also completed several ironman competitions and one of the most difficult mountain bike races in North America.
Kent Grelling's dreams of being a long distance runner began as a child after he watched Frank Shorter win the marathon in the 1972 Olympics. But with a congenital bicuspid aortic valve, Grelling knew this dreams were only illusions. His opportunity to compete in sports was limited.
Grelling underwent his first open heart surgery in his 20s, which allowed him to swim and run. Yet, he still dreamed of the marathon. At the age of 42, Grelling unexpectedly underwent a second heart surgery after his cardiologist discovered an aneurysm in his aortic artery. He received a new valve and conduit to repair it. Though it took Grelling almost two years of recovery, he decided to run once again. Now, he’s not only running the marathon, but has successfully completed a series of triathlons.
At the age of 18, Lynn Hall was incredibly accomplished; a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet with dreams of becoming a pilot, Hall had already obtained her private pilot's license.
Her life-long ambition was completely uprooted, however, when she developed encephalitis, which causes rapid swelling in the brain. From that point on Hall struggled with daily debilitating pain. Doctors prescribed myriad drugs and treatments to try to alleviate it to no avail. Neurostimulation provided relief. With the pain finally in check, Hall was able to return to school, graduate college and pursue a career.
But it was returning to an active lifestyle that truly empowered and restored Hall's physical and mental strength. Since her neurostimulator was implanted, Hall has run two ultra-marathons and climbed all of Colorado's highest 14,000-foot peaks. As someone who began running to prepare herself for the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hall now runs to prepare herself for the unceasing number of goals she sets for herself.
For Kristen Hallock-Waters, running was a coping mechanism and a way to give back. In 2004 her husband was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer and she started running a 5K fundraiser for the cancer center where he was treated.
In 2007, after her husband passed away, running became a way to navigate her grief. One year later Hallock-Waters ran in the New York City Marathon in her husband's memory, and for the Tug McGraw Foundation to help other brain cancer patients.
During her second New York City Marathon, Hallock-Waters struggled to finish the race, and in February 2010, she passed out (syncope) and was diagnosed with bradycardia, a slow heartbeat. After her pacemaker was implanted, Kristen resumed training, running four half-marathons and two 10-miles races. And in 2013, she returned to the New York City Marathon to once again run for her husband.
Roberto Itimura remained hopeful after he received the news that his heart was not fully functioning, endangering his life. He immediately started running to improve his health, to improve his life expectancy. Itimura had never run before, so taking on this activity was initially a challenge.
But now, it's not only a way of life, he says it saved his life.
Itimura has since started sharing his experience to help empower others. Itimura operates a Facebook page that coordinates running groups. He even organized a 53 kilometer ultra-marathon to commemorate his 53rd birthday.
In 1989, four years before she received her diabetes diagnoses, Dawn Kenwright won the Ladies Race in the Everest Marathon. Then, six years after her diagnosis she became the first woman to win the Ladies Race twice. Quite a "lofty" accomplishment considering that this is the highest elevated marathon in the world.
Kenwright has completed 15 London Marathons and is a current member of the Welsh Masters international cross-country team, and her athleticism and spark are inspirational to those around her. For her achievements, and for being a role model to other people with diabetes, she proudly carried the Olympic torch prior to the 2012 London Games.
Luis Moreira Da Silva moved himself and his family from Portugal to Switzerland with dreams of creating a better life. Four months later, however, he suffered a stroke that led to a sobering diagnosis: aortic stenosis, a condition where blood flow to the heart is decreased because the aortic valve cannot open fully, and aortic aneurysm, a condition where the aorta is enlarged.
Silva was shocked — he had always considered himself an athletic person. In fact, he was Portugal's in-line street skating vice-champion three times. After his heart surgery and recovery, he fully realized how his condition affected him, and the abnormal amount of physical effort he had needed to compete in sports such as soccer and running.
Today, Silva dreams of inspiring others with similar conditions. He hopes people struggling with heart conditions can look to him and know not to give up. He has already inspired his family, as his wife says, "He did not surrender to grief. He reinvented himself."
Saci Mowinski began running triathlons with the hope he could one day "sprint" from start to finish. Shortly after registering for the IRONMAN Wisconsin event, he received news of his Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, but it didn’t slow his enthusiasm for the event.
Instead, Mowinski began researching and reading about other triathlon competitors with Type 1 diabetes. With the assurance that he could still compete, he continued to train. He completed the IRONMAN Wisconsin and, just one month later, ran his first marathon in Detroit, Michigan.
Mowinski is involved in many support groups like Connected in Motion, Insulindependence, Triabetes and I Challenge Diabetes. Through the support of this community he has learned an important lesson, "You can continue to live your life to the fullest with Type 1. You can take on new challenges and find a great network of support in the Type 1 community."
Joshua Simon has never known life without a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt. Born prematurely, Simon sustained perinatal intraventricular hemorrhages and quickly developed hydrocephalus, a medical condition in which an abnormal amount of fluid accumulates in the brain's cavities.
When Simon was just 12 hours old his father bestowed the loving and hopeful nickname PJ – "Pride and Joy." Within 21 days of his birth, the VP shunt was placed.
Throughout his childhood Simon required physical, occupational and speech therapy. In high school he began working with a stretch therapist who encouraged Simon to try running. He did. And in college, Simon served as the cross-country team captain for three years.
Today Simon knows his condition does not define him. Instead, he finds his identity within his father's inspirational nickname. Simon constantly reminds himself, "My name is PJ and I can do anything."
Amanda Zullo has had Type 1 diabetes since she was a child, but her parents always told her that she could and should do anything she wanted to do. Zullo has taken that advice to heart. She was a Nordic skier in high school and used running as a way to stay in shape in the off- season. As an adult, running has served as a way for Zullo to meet people and make friends. Through their support, Zullo started running 5Ks and within a year tried a marathon.
In 2009, she received an insulin pump. She says she now didn't need to plan 24 hours in advance of a run regarding what she ate.
Zullo also serves as an inspiration for the students and families touched by diabetes in the school where she works. The school nurse connects Zullo with students who have been diagnosed, and Zullo encourages them not to see their new "normal" as a barrier.
By the age of 34, Monika Allen had already run 18 marathons. She was in the process of training for number 19 when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Doctors implanted a shunt to treat her hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid collects in the brain. She also began a schedule of chemo and radiation sessions to minimize her tumor.
Before she even began her chemo and radiation treatment, she was back to running. One year after she had begun to train for her 19th marathon, she was able to finish it. Six months after that event, she crossed the finish line number 20!
Allen is still actively living with cancer, and says running helps her face the uncertainty of her future, as well as allowing her to move forward feeling healthier and stronger.
Brad Ashfield's 12 years as a police officer came to an unexpected end when he began experiencing agonizing back pain. He underwent spine surgery to correct a ruptured disc, but three years later his condition had further deteriorated and he required a titanium cage.
Two years later, Ashfield suffered another devastating blow, this time in the form of a heart attack, which required a stent in his blocked circumflex artery.
With these medical complications all occurring within five years, Ashfield realized he needed to take his health and life back under his own control. He began running as a way to reinvent himself. Today Ashfield feels as though he is a new person and has a new perspective on life. His new physical strength, along with his strong mental perseverance, has allotted him a second chance to live life to its fullest.
For Rachel Bishop, the passion for running began as she biked alongside her younger brother, a high school and collegiate runner, to help him train. However, when her brother was 42, he was killed in a tragic cycling accident.
Following the accident, Bishop found comfort in running. But one year later, she learned she had a congenital bicuspid aortic valve, where parts of the aortic valve fuse during development. Because of her condition, she had developed an ascending aortic aneurysm.
When Bishop learned she had to undergo open heart surgery she first worried she would no longer be able to run. After her surgery, however, she reached out to other heart patient runners and the support group H.E.A.R.T. to get back on track. She has been running ever since and has completed many races including the Suzuki Midnight Sun Run and the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon.
Gabriel Estrada Mejia started running 35 years ago when he was in high school, and kept it up after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes to demonstrate to the world — and himself — that diabetes would not be the end of his life.
Since receiving an insulin pump three years ago, Estrada Mejia continues to train. He now logs 32 miles each week and has advice for those who learn they have diabetes: "Never give up on your goals. Anything is possible!"
Roger Frisch's first foray into running was in response to a friend's dare to run a marathon. But he became hooked. As a concertmaster for the Minnesota Orchestra, Frisch relies on his steady hand and his healthy runner’s body to play the violin to his fullest potential.
However, his career was threatened by a condition called essential tremor, a nervous system disorder that causes him to involuntarily shake. Frisch chose to undergo surgery to implant a neurostimulator to control the tremors.
Frisch is back to his concert chair making beautiful music, and 31 years after that first dare to run a marathon, he’s still running. Many people from around the world now reach out to him for guidance on deep brain surgeries. He is always happy to share his story, answer questions and offer counsel.
George Gilbert had always defined himself as an athlete, rowing for Cambridge University, representing Great Britain at the World Masters Track Cycling Championships and running in the London Marathon. But when he was diagnosed with a regurgitating bicuspid aortic valve, a condition where blood leaks back into the heart's main pumping chamber, he lost his athletic life overnight. Eventually, his aortic valve further deteriorated and required open heart surgery to fit a mechanical aortic valve.
Gilbert's singular goal after his open heart surgery was to begin running again. Though his condition was out of his control, he knew his health and his recovery was not. Gilbert perceived his condition as an opportunity to define himself. And, less than one year after his operation, Gilbert was able to finish his first race in 14 years!
When Kimi Hall received a diagnosis of heart block, where the heart's electrical signal is disrupted, she thought her long-distance running was in jeopardy. But for this veteran of numerous races…from marathons to 5Ks…a diagnosis didn’t end the run.
Four months after she received a pacemaker, Hall was back to running 5Ks. Within five months she started racing in 10Ks again. And just six months after her surgery, Hall was back to completing a half-marathon.
While Hall refused to let her diagnosis permanently sideline her, she does have a new perspective of running. "I have allowed myself to go at a slower pace, appreciating every single step I take now. I now take time to enjoy the journey, not just the finish."
Geoff Henderson and his wife have trekked Vietnam, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. But at 68, while training to walk the Milford Track, a New Zealand hiking trail, Henderson simply attributed his breathlessness, lethargy and cramping to his age.
Henderson ignored his health obstacles and continued to train and work full-time. As his symptoms progressed he felt his passion for life slowly dissipating. At a check-up his physician was shocked to find Henderson’s heart beating at 26 beats per minute. Following weeks of tests, Henderson was given a pacemaker to treat sick sinus syndrome, a condition where the heart’s natural pacing works improperly.
The pacemaker completely reenergized him to seek out new life adventures. "I am determined to live a full life and reach goals typically set by people half my age," says Henderson.
While still in elementary school, a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease completely disrupted Fei Jiao's life path. According to Fei, he is the youngest reported case of Parkinson's disease in China, and he is the world's fourth-youngest documented case.
Prior to his surgery Fei struggled to even walk. After receiving deep brain stimulation therapy at 20, Fei regained his mobility. Now, at the age of 23, he uses his new-found mobility every day. He can not only walk, but runs at least 20 miles every week.
In addition, Fei gives back and helps others by volunteering his time to counsel Parkinson's disease patients and affected families at the hospital where he was treated.
When she was 28, Carrie Romero was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy – a heart muscle disease that puts her at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). She received an ICD to protect her from SCA, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
While her ICD helps protect her life, she says running is the reason she can truly "live." Running started with a challenge from her husband to improve her heart health. She fought self-doubt and insecurities with small goals and the support of her family.
Today her goals and self-confidence have grown exponentially. She has run in numerous 5Ks and multiple half marathons. When she runs the Medtronic 10 Mile in October 2014, she will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of her ICD implant.
Alana Savage had always been enthralled by the Edmonton Police Service's slogan, "Never the same day twice." The constant air of adventure and challenge captivated her. But during her seventh year as a police officer with the EPS, Savage received her biggest challenge yet: the news that she had a "hole in her heart." Savage was in instant disbelief. She thought her fatigue was a natural response to her active life as a mother of three sons and a police officer.
Savage was originally told she would need open-heart surgery, which would likely bring her career to a standstill. Then she found out about a less invasive procedure, a medical device that could be implanted without open heart surgery. Savage's septal occluder closed the abnormal opening between two chambers in her heart.
Though she stays true to the police department motto, Savage does have some uniformity to her days – she is thankful each day for the medical device that saved her career. She has even attained the highest level achievable on her mandatory VO2 Max fitness tests, while still finding energy to keep up with her three sons.
Carolin Suhayda says running helps her to forget the world around her; all her problems seem far away and small. But that escape became a memory when Suhayda was diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome, a heart rhythm disease that caused her heartbeat to slow and skip beats irregularly, resulting in fainting. Suhayda required a pacemaker to regulate her heart beat.
After her surgery, Suhayda struggled to cope with the radical change in her life. She traveled to Munich, Germany to cheer on her running mates. However, as she watched them wait eagerly at the starting line, she made a life changing decision to run again. With the support of her friends, family, coach and doctor, she slowly resumed training and is now back on the course.
At 33, Guy Yohanan was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and his life became a coin-flip of good or bad days. When his bad days began outweighing the good ones, Yohanan was forced to stop working. On his worst days he could barely play with his three children.
Then Yohanan underwent deep brain stimulation surgery. The 12-hour operation changed his life. Just one week later, he resumed much of the active lifestyle he thought was completely behind him.
Yohanan now enjoys running, playing tennis and, of course, playing with his children. Guy hopes with his participation he can spread awareness of Parkinson's disease – especially in Israel.