On Oct. 30 Stephen Marra suddenly was living every parent's worst nightmare. He was stuck in an intensive care unit around the clock by his child's bedside.
The 63-year-old Portola Valley resident's 16-year-old daughter Kate, a Team USA swimmer, had passed out at practice and was taken to the Lucile Packard Children’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit.
Sleeping on the floor of the ICU for three days, Marra hit his emotional and physical wall.
"There were times I felt completely drained and almost unable to keep moving forward," Marra said in an email to Patch. "Slowly it dawned on me that I have felt like this before, and it was when running a marathon or in the middle of a triathlon swim or doing a 24-hour non- stop training with SEALs."
Marra, a marketing consultant and West Coast Coordinator for the SEAL Training Academy, applied his experiences as a civilian working with the elite military arm of the Navy. It helped him survive his daughter's ordeal.
By focusing on "micro goals," like the next tree or hill on a long race, he was able to just focus on the next doctor's appointment or test. He also made sure to talk to other parents and find time to exercise to relieve his stress.
Kate was eventually diagnosed with arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, and given a cardioverter defibrillator.
Now the Marra family, which includes her mother Andrea, younger sister Julia and a dog and two cats, wants to pay it forward with what they learned.
The Marra family was struck by the time and care the hospital staff took with them. Kate, a junior at St. Francis in Mountain View, participated in the Hospital School, ensuring she didn’t fall behind. When the nurses learned Kate was interested in medicine, they taught her about what they were doing.
“I want to show them how profoundly grateful we are for all they have done for us,” Marra said. “We want to give back to the families we met while we were at Packard. They showed us phenomenal courage and strength.”
Just this weekend, Kate reached a big milestone. Her father said on Saturday her doctors said she could run and bicycle again. She and her father have done triathlons together, via the Menlo Park triathlon group Team Sheeper, and for her to be able to exercise again is wonderful, Marra said.
Marra is creating a not-for-profit organization called Project Endurance (named in honor of famed polar explorer Ernest Shackleton) that will help families and friends of hospitalized children be able to exercise and learn how setting small goals, whether for physical challenges or medical ones, can help them get through the worst of times in their lives.
The program will pair up local athletes with people dealing with serious medical issues and buddy them up for walks, physical therapy or other workouts.
Stephen's run starts at 9 a.m. at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Dec. 31 if you want to cheer him on. To donate, click this link.