Justin Feria’s first heart scare came in August 2008 when he had a difficult time breathing on a flight home from New York. At the USD Student Clinic Center, Feria was told he likely had bronchitis and was given antibiotics. The symptoms returned six weeks later but “10 times worse” according to Justin.

He was hospitalized for four days of testing and ultimately was diagnosed with an enlarged and weakened heart. He was put on a drug program but by January, his body wasn’t creating enough energy to keep him warm even in an 85 degree room.

He returned to the hospital for two weeks of testing, had a pacemaker and a defibrillator installed and was put on a list to receive a transplant. Given a pager and told to be no more than an hour away from the hospital, Feria waited. During this time he held intimate conversations with family and friends. His basic message was that he’d done a lot of things in his life and that if something were to happen, not to mourn him. Fortunately Justin’s family did not have to deal with mourning because on March 20, 2009, he received the fateful phone call – he had a heart.

Justin rallied other heart recipients to do the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half Marathon to prove how healthy they are.


At age 49, while attending an emergency physicians conference in Florida, a virus caused Bryon’s heart to go into a life threatening rhythm. Suddenly, this paramedic and EMS responder went from being the caregiver to being the patient. Fourteen months later he was placed on the heart transplant list. The virus Bryon had was very aggressive and made him so ill he wasn’t allowed to return home. If he were going to leave the hospital alive, it would have to be by the blessing of a donated heart. While he waited, his heart got progressively worse. Bryon drew strength from the support of his family and friends. On April 23, 2010, Bryon received his new lease on life and what he calls his “round number two on Jeopardy.” Bryon is back working in the field alongside firefighters and paramedics making a difference in people’s lives. He feels blessed that he’s able to help patients on the transplant waiting list and their families navigate their way on what his friend calls “the roller coaster.”


Dr. Michael Brucker has always been a talented man – but it is his talent and compassion combined that make him a truly great man. Dr. Brucker is a volunteer plastic surgeon with Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, a nonprofit organization committed to transforming the lives of disadvantaged children with physical deformities caused by birth defects, accidents, abuse or disease through the gift of reconstructive surgery and related healthcare services. All Fresh Start Surgical Gifts medical treatments are provided free to children and their families, and it is Dr. Brucker’s talent and compassion that has allowed Fresh Start Surgical Gifts to transform the lives of over 5,500 children to date.

Dr. Brucker started volunteering with Fresh Start in 2003, and since then he has volunteered over 450 hours performing medical procedures, not including the countless additional hours he has spent volunteering at fundraising events and serving on the Fresh Start Board of Directors.

Dr. Brucker’s compassion and surgical prowess make him a real hero in the eyes of his patients.


Late last year Kevin started noticing he couldn’t keep up with the Navy Seals he often ran with. He thought he was getting out of shape. During a vacation in Maui, his wife Sara noticed Kevin was taking longer to walk up a little hill with her. With her encouragement, Kevin went to his doctor on January 4, 2011 where he was diagnosed with heart failure. After four days of testing he was sent home with a diuretic and an ace inhibitor and told to come back in three months for another checkup. A week before the scheduled checkup, Kevin suffered a stroke.

While recovering from the stroke, Kevin received a heart transplant work up. Kevin had been in the ICU for 32 days when he received the news of his new heart. Early the morning of May 7, 2011, Kevin had a new beating heart and a new lease on life.

Marissa Safford Web MARISSA SAFFORD

Marissa was just 23 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma 18 months ago. She endured chemotherapy with all that goes with it but unfortunately, the chemo didn’t significantly reduce the tumors on her spine and femur. She then underwent radiation which fortunately was helpful. Because of the tumor on her spine, it was necessary for her to wear a molded back brace for spine stability and she was not able to do any exercise. For a normally very active young woman, this was very difficult.

Marissa is now in remission. She is focusing her efforts on beating this illness and living a healthy lifestyle. Marissa has been training with Team in Training and will be participating in the Tri-City Medical Center Half Marathon. She has made the choice to fight this disease and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in an effort to help others. She has had a positive and upbeat attitude despite her illness and the side effects that the chemo and radiation therapy caused. Marissa is a role model for young adults with cancer.


Robert French is 45-year-old married father of two. Robert retired from the Navy in 2005 and is currently attending National University majoring in Computer Information Systems. In 2007 he began having symptoms from atrial flutter and cardiomyopathy – enlargement of the heart – which turned out to be caused from a gene mutation in his family. In June of 2008 he was told he would need a new heart and was placed on the heart transplant waiting list. Four months later on November 29th Robert received the phone call that would save his life. It was a call informing him that he had a donor and to get to the hospital for the lifesaving transplant procedure.

Since receiving his transplant Robert spends his time enjoying life. He routinely visits patients on the transplant waiting list to let them know that a heart transplant is “not the end of your life, it’s just the beginning of the rest of your life.” Robert also spends time volunteering with Donate Life San Diego.


Sally has been a longtime, dedicated volunteer to Huntington’s Disease Society of America serving on its Board of Directors for the San Diego Chapter for 14 years. Huntington’s Disease is a disorder passed down through families in which nerve cells in certain parts of the brain waste away or degenerate.  It is a terminal disease which causes disability and gets worse over time.

Sally has run the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half Marathon a handful of times and has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Huntington’s Disease San Diego. She has also brought significant awareness to both the organization and the cause. In the fall of 2011, Sally’s 22-year-old son Forrester and his girlfriend passed away in a tragic car accident.  Sally is running the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half Marathon along with a handful of other runners in honor of her son. Despite her loss, Sally continues to raise funds and awareness for Huntington’s Disease and to live each day to the fullest.


John and Gloria are living examples that age is but a number.  While some want diamonds for their anniversary gift, this couple decided their gift was the gift of health and they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year by training for and running the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half Marathon. Both John and Gloria are 70 years young and have traveled to Carlsbad from Canada to participate. Despite previous health issues (high blood pressure, stroke, arthritis) they received medical clearance and have decided to serve as inspirational role models for their kids, grandkids and an entire generation. The message they send to all of us is “You’re never too old to challenge yourself, work hard, and to achieve new dreams!”


San Diego is a military town and the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Marathon proudly supports the military.  Being a military spouse is one of the toughest jobs in the military and so we’re proud to recognize Denise Chirgwin, who represents hundreds of thousands of military spouses throughout our country.

Denise is a Navy wife and has been through three long deployments over the past few years.  While her husband is far away for deployments of six months or more, Denise takes care of everything at home including their young son. As most single parents know, this is no easy feat. Denise is also an active partner for the spouses club of her husband’s squadron and is working on starting her own business.  With all that, it is hard to imagine the dedication and commitment it took for her to train for the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Half Marathon – her first race longer than a 5K.  We commend Denise for tackling a large goal and once again proving to herself and others that you can overcome any hardship. Denise’s husband recently returned from a deployment and will be running the full marathon.


Angelina Renteria is the physical activity specialist at Indian Health Council. She is a leader, motivator and shining example to others. When members of the surrounding American Indian tribes come to her, it’s because their doctors told them to take control of their diabetes, obesity and other health issues.

Angelina understands that people aren’t motivated to change their lifestyle when it’s a chore, so instead she’s made personal health a matter of community service. She’s recruited an entire team to run with her for Team Running Strong, a charity that raises funds and awareness for American Indian youth. By encouraging her team members to run for something bigger than themselves, Team Running Strong SoCal has pledged to raise over $10,000 for their fellow native youth. Under the leadership of Angelina, team members are learning to take control of their diabetes, obesity and cholesterol through exercise and nutrition.

“Many of them won’t run for themselves or for their own benefit, but they will do it for their community… and in giving back to their community, they are giving themselves the gift of better health.” Angelina will be running the half marathon.

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