Isle resident Leslie Lam, 42, is one of 23 runners worldwide chosen as a 2007 Global Hero by Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Lam, who has a pacemaker because of a genetic heart condition, will run the marathon in Minnesota Oct. 7.
Lams take health advances to heart
Leslie Lam and family members enjoy family gatherings because their hearts beat together.
Lam has been on a pacemaker since 2002 because her heart was beating too slowly, resulting in frequent fainting spells. Her father, one of her four sisters and a nephew also have implanted pacemakers or defibrillators.
Living is something they don't take for granted, she said: "We wake up each morning and we're blessed. We try to live each day with gratitude."
Lam began running last year to support a friend who signed up for the Honolulu Marathon, and will run the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota Oct. 7.
She is one of 23 runners chosen worldwide as 2007 Global Heroes by that marathon. Global Heroes are described as inspirational people who lead active lives with the help of medical technology.
Lam's husband, Marvyn, and children, Amber, 21, and Matthew, 19, will join her for the marathon or shorter runs.
Lam said her grandmother and 13 siblings all had heart disease, but her family did not realize it had a genetic problem until her sister nearly died of heart disease in 1999.
"Women (in her grandmother's family) did not reach their 50s when they passed away," she said. "They just said it was a bad heart."
Her sister was traveling to town eight years ago when she had tachycardia or fibrillation and her heart stopped, Lam said. A neighbor pulled in front of her car to stop it and brought her back to life with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Lam said.
She had several other fibrillation episodes in the hospital, and at one point, while talking to her on the telephone, she heard them call "code blue," Lam said.
Her sister was implanted with a defibrillator and "since then has lived a great life," Lam said. She has four children.
She said Dr. Edward Shen "played a very important role in diagnosis of our family's genetic history and our problems, and further tested other members of our family because of her past."
She had been fainting about once a year but thought she was just tired or not sleeping enough, Lam said. She was placed on medications to keep her heart rate from going too high or too slow, but that was not enough and they gave her a pacemaker five years ago, she said.
She said the family received a lot of information from Medtronic, producer of implantable medical devices, and from the American Heart Association.
Steve Woodward, local Medtronic representative, introduced them to Dr. Earl Bakken on the Big Island, inventor of the transistor cardiac pacemaker and founder of Medtronic, Lam said: "We were so awed and grateful."
Lam said she began volunteering for AHA because she was "so indebted to them" and was offered a position that opened up. She now directs the heart walk.
When she sees children and other survivors of heart disease walking, she said, "It makes me so emotional because you know technology is saving them."
She said her life has changed dramatically because of technology. Her grandmother was short of breath walking from one end of the home to another because she had no lung capacity, she said. "When I have a hill to climb, I say, 'OK, Granny, I'm doing this for you because you couldn't.' It gives me strength ...
"I really just can't imagine how it would be if someone told me, 'Leslie, you can't do something because if you try your heart will stop.' I'm fortunate I can do things."
For others who are fearful or depressed because of heart disease or chronic illness, she said, "Guess what? It can get better. There are therapies that will help you live your life -- not the way you used to live it, but better."