Katherine Standefer: A Journey Facing Death, Embracing Life

Her memoir is called "Lightning Flowers: My Journey To Uncover The Cost Of Saving A Life."

“This book will make you feel less alone. Pick it up and you will hear a human voice.” New York Times

Eleven years ago, when she was 24, Katherine Standefer was working as a ski instructor and a climbing teacher in Jackson, Wyo., when she suddenly passed out in a parking lot. She later learned that she has long QT syndrome, a genetic heart condition in which the heart can suddenly quiver instead of rhythmically pumping blood.

 It can lead to there not being enough blood in vital organs, which causes someone to pass out," Standefer says. "If they're lucky, they might wake back up. If they're not lucky, they could die of sudden cardiac death."

For years, she's lived with a medical device embedded in her chest, an implanted cardiac defibrillator, a tiny version of the machines in hospital rooms that deliver shocks to someone whose heart has stopped beating or has developed a dangerous arrhythmia. Standefer's device was implanted 11 years ago, when she was 24.

Her book chronicles the ways her condition and the defibrillator changed her life, like experiencing accidental jolts of electricity to her heart as well as her journeys to Africa to visit mines where the precious metals used in making it are extracted. She wanted to explore the human cost of creating these devices. And she writes about making complicated medical decisions with potentially life-or-death consequences while living with little income on the margins of the nation's health insurance system.

Lightning Flowers was a Finalist for the 2021 Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction. The book was also a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice/Staff Pick and the NYTBR’s Group Text Pick for November 2020. Named one of O, The Oprah Magazine’s Best Books of Fall 2020, it has been featured in People Magazine, on NPR’s Fresh Air, and on the goop podcast. Lightning Flowers was a Finalist for the 2021 Arizona/New Mexico Book Award in Autobiography/Memoir, selected as the Common Read 2022-2023 at Colorado College, and shortlisted for the 2018 J. Anthony Lukas Works-in-Progress Award from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Learn more about Katherine on her website.

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