First Person: A conversation with Stephanie Martinson, Racing Hearts founder and speech pathologist


Armed with a matter-of-fact cheerfulness and her fellow Palo Altans' willingness to help, Stephanie Martinson, a part-time speech pathologist at the VA, mom and founder of Racing Hearts, is on track to save a lot of lives. She talks with Lisa Van Dusen about her journey.

While climbing Half Dome, Stephanie experienced her first heart incident, revealing her hypertrophic cardiomyopathy -- or enlarged heart -- ultimately launching her on a mission. More than four years later in 2012, she founded Racing Hearts, a Palo Alto-based, all-volunteer nonprofit organization that advocates for the installation of automated external defribrillators (AEDs) in every school, gym and other public places.

Stephanie describes the moment she decided to take action: It occurred on her daily "run to the trees," which helps her navigate the challenge of living with a life-threatening condition.

Stephanie shared that all that's missing to realize her vision for tapping into the life-saving potential of AEDs is more funding (approximately $700,000 to install them throughout Santa Clara County) and education about the prevalence, peril, and often hidden nature of heart conditions.

Her recent experience as a Leadership Palo Alto fellow reinforced the reality that it's all about relationships.

"You can't do anything alone," she said.

In fact, she is now collaborating with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors -- led by Supervisor Joe Simitian -- to accelerate the installation of AEDs throughout the county. And she's teamed up with Stanford Health to produce the Racing Hearts 5k and 10k races.

As she anticipated her second implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) surgery less than 24 hours after this on-camera conversation, Stephanie already has plans for her life post-surgery. Although her doctors were skeptical that she could run a marathon, she declared that she "says yes" to running a marathon within the next year.

"That's my goal," she declared.

Host/interview, Lisa Van Dusen

Video, Veronica Weber

Production manager, Taylor Shoolery

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9 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 1, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

"Racing Hearts" and Ms. Martinson are a breath of fresh air, in their campaign to bring this life-saving gear to our town—especially to the School District where I taught for 15 years.

Hers is a great example of initiative and caring, and let's hope that we all, like her, will one day hit our "two or three-mile mark" where we realize that something quite critical but quite easy can be done to save lives in Palo Alto.

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)

Like this comment
Posted by Jon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2015 at 9:39 pm

As a racing hearts board member, I'm very happy to support increased heart safety for our community. We all benefit from these devices being available. Racing Hearts is now looking to place additional AEDs within the East Side Unified School District targeting underserved youth in San Jose which is a collaborating with Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Lets make this program happen.

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