Business owner responds heroically to cardiac challenge


The unthinkable happened to St. Louisan Ron Rubin. Now, irony and coincidence have made him an international hero.

In the final days of training for his eighth marathon two years ago, Rubin went into sudden cardiac arrest, not far from his business headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Had Rubin’s son, Todd, then 29, not been at his side to phone 911, his dad might not be here. If not treated within minutes, stoppage of blood flow to the brain and other vital organs usually causes death.

On Sept. 7, 2009, emergency medical personnel used electric-shock therapy to restart Rubin’s heart. During a nine-day hospital stay in California, doctors corrected his fast heart rhythm, until then undetected, by surgically implanting a cardioverter defibrillator.

Back in St. Louis, Rubin, who has been running for 30-plus years, felt uncharacteristically depressed. As a member of Congregation Shaare Emeth and owner/CEO of Republic of Tea, a company he bought in 1994, some 20 months after its founding by the same husband/wife team that started Banana Republic, Rubin is known for his can-do spirit.

Building on Republic of Tea’s nomenclature, he refers to his company as an “independent nation,” one that now offers 200-plus choices of tea from blueberry hibiscus to double dark chocolate.

Rubin’s employees are “ministers.” Customers are “citizens.” Sales outlets are “embassies,” and Rubin, 62, is “minister of tea.”

Just eight months before his cardiac incident, Rubin had established a companywide healthy minister program. He makes available, at no charge to employees/ministers, such options as advice from a registered dietitian, pedometers, 15 to 30 minutes each business day for walking, and healthy snacks in the break rooms.

On Oct. 4, 2009, the day Rubin was to have been among entrants in a Twin Cities marathon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of Minnesota, he checked the marathon’s website. There, he noticed that the event was officially called the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

Medtronic, which previously would have meant nothing to him, happened to be the name of the Fortune 500 medical technology firm that had produced his defibrillator. “It was just like, ‘Holy Cow!'” he says.

From a closet at home, Rubin retrieved the cap he had worn all summer during his practice runs. Sure enough, the name Medtronic appeared on the hat, above the words Twin Cities Marathon.

Back on the Medtronic website, Rubin spotted the company’s global heroes program, an annual celebration of the “triumphant spirit” of some 25 long-distance runners who benefit from medical technology.

Some of the heroes had been diagnosed while in college with heart disease, diabetes neurological or spinal disorders, and chronic pain. Still, their diseases did not prevent them from signing up for Medtronic’s 26.2-mile full marathon or the company’s 10-mile run.

“It was so inspiring that I kind of dreamed that maybe someday, maybe I could be a global hero and inspire others,” Rubin says.

He wrote Medtronic’s CEO, telling him how much the global heroes program meant to him.

In a cardiac rehabilitation program administered by St. Louis University, Rubin started walking on a treadmill. For a full year, his doctors restricted him to 3- to 4-mile runs.

But keeping his dream in mind, he applied in January 2010 to be a Medtronics global hero. “I was trying to turn something that was a very scary, negative health issue for me personally, into something that’s exciting and an example for others,” he says.

On his first application, Rubin was disqualified. He had not run, post-diagnosis and surgery, in an event at least 10 miles long.

One year after his surgery, and with doctors’ permission, Rubin began training for a half marathon. On April 10, 2011, he joined thousands of others here for the half-marathon portion of Go! St. Louis Family Fitness Weekend.

The next day, he filled out another global heroes application. This time, along with 24 other individuals from 10 countries, including Sweden, South Africa, Chile and the United States, Rubin made it.

Each hero lives with chronic disease, benefits from medical technology (though not necessarily Medtronic’s) and receives travel expenses and a paid entry to either the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon or the Medtronic Twin Cities 10-Mile event.

Rubin plans to run Sunday in the 10-mile event. In his Twin Cities cheering section he expects to see his wife, Pam (A Jewish Light Trustee); their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, Julie and Jay Liberman and 4-year-old Sally; and their son, Todd, who helped save his dad’s life.

On behalf of each global hero, Medtronic Foundation donates $1,000 to a non-profit patient organization that educates and supports people who live with the hero’s condition.

Though Rubin seems most excited about meeting other heroes, the meaning of his own accomplishments does not elude him. “This is pretty amazing,” he concedes.