Join us for our last conversation of the season with Petronela Sandulache, tech-entrepreneur and multi-passionate woman who is the founder of Cordifio Health.
Cordifio Health is a digital health start-up focused on supporting women with their heart health through education, empowerment and patient advocacy. Petronela’s personal journey demonstrated the need for change in this area, and it is her mission to globally raise awareness in order to make women’s hearts beat longer.
The music that Petronela enjoys listening to is classical music with The Third Symphony of Beethoven being one of her favourites. She also enjoys vintage Italian music by day and jazz music by night. She is currently reading the biography of Shackleton who is the man whose goal was to conquer the South Pole.
One of the books that she highly recommends is The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan. She would also recommend the Netflix documentary Daughters of Destiny, which is the story of the Shanti Bhavan school.
A few books that she suggests our listeners to look out for is Sex Matters by Professor Alyson McGregor, "A Woman's Heart” by Professor Angela Maas, “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez, Go Figure - the astonishing science of the female body by Lisa Falco and The Woman Who Changed Her Brain and other inspiring stories of pioneering brain transformation by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young.
Hello, and welcome to a new episode of Narratives of Purpose. This podcast is dedicated to amplifying social impact by bringing you inspiring individual stories of ordinary people who are making extraordinary impact within their communities and around the world. My name is Claire Murigande, and I am your host on this show. So if you're looking for a programme that showcases unique stories of changemakers, stories of people who are contributing to make a difference in society, and at the same time you want to be inspired to take action, then look no further you are in the right place, get comfortable and listen to my conversation.
Today's episode, we'll conclude the third season of our podcast. My last guest for this month of July, as we continue to discuss technology for impact is Petronela Sandulache. Petronela is the founder of Cordifio Health, which is an electronic health startup. In our discussion, she talks about her endeavour to help solve heart disease misdiagnosis in women, to raise awareness about gender medicine, and to advance health equity. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on our show, by rating the podcast on Spotify, or by giving us a review on Apple podcasts. This will help other listeners find our show and further amplify the stories we share on Narratives of Purpose. But for now, listen to Petronela's story and her mission to help women's hearts beat longer.
Hi, Petronela. Welcome to Narratives of Purpose. I'm really happy and excited to have you on the show. How are you today?
Really, really great, Claire, and I'm honoured to be part of this podcast.
What would you like our listeners to know about you? A bit of background before we dive into Cordifio?
I'm Petronela Sandulache, and I'm the founder of Cordifio Health. I can tell you more about that in a minute. So where do I come from? A little bit all over the place from Romania, Italy, Australia, via Germany now in Switzerland. My background is in economics, I was in consulting in Australia. And then I moved to Berlin, where I was looking into the automotive sector, things like self-driving cars, how to use AI and blockchain to develop new mobility solutions for the future, like electrification, and so on. And now I am in Zurich, working on my startup because of a personal journey.
Amazing. So I see it's quite a diverse background, but it seems like tech, or at least innovation is a bit of a connection.
That's right. I mean, we see technology as the enabler to solve problems in a faster, better, cheaper way hopefully.
You just mentioned that you are the founder of Cordifio Health, can you tell us more about it? But just to give a first hint to the listeners, I would say it's a digital health solution focusing on women's heart health. We met through a mutual friend. Somebody introduced us because I was working on an event with the Healthcare Business Women Association, where I wanted you to come and speak to us about women's health. And during that event, you said that the number one cause of death for women is heart disease, and that even more than all the cancers combined. Now, that was one first shock, if you will, and the next one was that the majority of these conditions are, in fact, preventable if they're caught early enough. So tell me about what your objective with Cordifio is?
You're spot on. If you were shocked by this statistic. Imagine when I was shocked by this statistic back in the day when I was researching the problem and understanding why the most important person in my life disappears just like that out of the blue from something that we didn't know about it, this thing that the number one cause of loss of life of women, and also men, more than all cancers combined his heart disease was shocking. But most shocking in all this is that 50% of women even following a heart attack, get misdiagnosed, with things like anxiety, or indigestion or depression, rather than a heart condition, or other physiological condition or stroke or whatever. And you wonder, why is that? To find out that everything we know, in cardiovascular diseases has been studied mainly on a white male prototype. And women are perceived as "Atypical", if everything that we know in this field is studied on men and not women, then we have a challenge. And the ones who are paying the price with their lives are women. What's more surprising, believe it or not, this was research done by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, where they found that that 30% to 50% of women diagnosed with depression, don't even have depression. And what had happened in my family, to lose the most important person in my life, because of an out of the blue situation, you think "how is that possible?" And here's the good news, and what I've learned from researchers around the world, and pioneers in women's health that goes beyond reproduction, is that 80% of heart diseases and strokes are preventable, if caught in time. Time is muscle. That's what the experts say. And that's where the mission of Cordifio comes into play. We want to ensure that women know about their "Atypical" symptoms. Typical equals male symptoms, A-typical equals females, we are 51% of the world population. And if we are typical, what are we talking about here. And actually one of our amazing advisors, Professor Alyson McGregor, she's very vocal about this thing of A-typical, we should stop talking about typical/Atypical, these are symptoms that manifests differently in male patients and female patients. And then within these populations, we have different types of symptoms that are different in let's say, women of colour, or Hispanic women, or Southeast Asian women, they have different types of risk propensities for heart disease. And we want to make sure that health equity is advanced and embraces all of these people that have been left behind when it comes to research on various diseases and how they manifest in them.
My question now would be through Cordifio, how are you working on that in terms of bringing people, especially women, more aware of the type of symptoms they have?
One thing that I'd like to mention and highlight, we are not looking into diagnosis. It's not diagnosis, what we're trying to do is all about leveraging technology to reach scale, reach as many people as possible and raise awareness around this topic left behind like cardiovascular diseases in women. We see the femtech world that focuses on things like track your period, fertility, menopause, and now upcoming mental illness. Guess what, none of this is killing you. What we are addressing is a problem that people do not even know about. And when I say people as in the general population, they think that breast cancer is the number one cause of death in women or prostate cancer in men. Physicians do not know about heart disease in women and how it manifests especially the general practitioners area if they are not trained in this, and only recently, the medical curriculum in universities got updated to include sex and gender differences. So with Cardifio by raising awareness with women, we started a little bit of a grassroots movement, we want the patient's voice to be heard out there. But actually, before you become a patient, you have to be your own advocate in the discussions you're going to have with the physician. So we want women, but also men and the kids to know about this kind of topic, because they will be able to identify problems early on. Number two; Early detection and prevention of heart disease through the educational aspects of it, but also through the encouragement or the empowerment that we put in the hands of the women to have informed conversations with their doctors. And to accelerate this decision making process and reach the right diagnosis by the doctor with the information or let's say, the homework that we do together with the women and later down the road with the men to let's say, combine all these kinds of aspects, and help them to engage effectively with the doctors. Because one of the challenges in the healthcare system, as you know, is that doctors don't have time, a visit is either five or ten minutes. And that's it. And that's where we want to come in, to make sure that certain aspects of a condition get highlighted. That's what we're doing, we highlight risk factors that women have. So by doing that, we would like the physicians to take women seriously, and not being sent home with depression, indigestion, or anxiety or mental illness. If that's a symptom of something physiological, like a potential heart attack. Women do not manifest heart attacks the same way in which men do and that's the problem, doctors aren't trained to recognise those symptoms that they learned in medical school. And this is what I've learned, by talking with our network of Doctor experts, is that they learn how symptoms manifest in men, but don't apply to women. As an example, the feeling of having an elephant on their chest - that's a typical male symptom. Women don't necessarily have the feeling of elephants on their chest, instead they may feel like, "I don't feel well," where the pain is expressed differently. And also the language in which women express themselves is different from a very fact-based, male-based language.
And you talked previously about one of your advisors. You came from the automotive industry, you started that and I understand that you are on an entrepreneurial journey. Tell me a bit more about that. How you have expanded your network to have all these people support you on your journey.
It looks like I've been grass hopping in different fields, to see where the grass is greener, not necessarily, but it's the curiosity, of learning, and knowing about different things, I love it! And how I got so many people on board, let's say supporters or those who are helping to make this dream a reality is probably a part of it is through what happened in my family losing a very important person to me to something that could have been easily avoided. And had I known what I know, today, four years ago, that person would be here with us, and I would not now be here with you. When I was doing the research on this topic on my own. The rational part of my brain couldn't understand the statistics. And that's when I started contacting just out of the blue, cold emailing, cold calling, okay, cold LinkedIn, whatever, various people around the world, and one in particular is Professor Alyson McGregor. I remember back in the day when I was in Australia, I was a TED Talk "binge-r" and her TED Talk stayed impressed in my mind when I heard that medicines metabolised differently in a woman's body. And women can get into trouble because of a dosage problem, or chemical compound problem or whatever. And then to find out that the clinical trials have mainly men on board, and then to find out that eight out of 10 medicines withdrawn from the market, is because women have side effects, so on and so forth. And that left so much imprinted in my mind that I went and contacted her, invited her for zoom coffee, and then the rest is history. And she was so generous with her time and her insights, that then I mentioned to her, this idea that I had, and she said, "Go for it." I was like, "What do you mean, go for it? I don't come from the medical field, I'm not a doctor" She said "It doesn't matter. You are going to find the right people to help you. Actually, maybe it's even better that you're not from the medical field, because you can ask questions that others will not dare to ask, you can push your envelope a little bit further. And most importantly, you come with a different angle at looking at things." So with my consulting background and then automotive, they're all industries that you learn just by doing. And Automotive is a highly regulated industry. So I know a couple of things about regulations. And then I just went from one person to the other, got connected and formed my network. And also I joined various amazing acceleration programmes, like DayOne in Basel. Tec4Eva in Lausanne That's the collaboration between EPFL and Groupe Mutuel, it was a fantastic experience working being accepted as one of the 10 startups out of 300 which strategize are working with Alexander Osterwalder and an amazing coach Augustin, they helped us to shape a few things. And that was a huge honour for us, or here in Zurich, the Blue Lion Incubator, really supportive connecting to various experts. And that's how the network forms. And that's how the people who believe in this, they want to help. And now in the Netherlands, again, another amazing advisor, and she's a leader in the field of sex and gender centric medicine. Professor Sabine Oertelt-Prigione at the Radboud University and Bielefeld University, she was the one who put us in contact, for instance, with German television. And they're opening doors because people want to create change out there. And it's all about advancing health equity beyond reproduction, because women are more than their reproductive organs.
To jump on something you just said, you've now been very active within the startup field. So people start to know you and you have your traction and your momentum. Tell me more about your team because I recall from the workshop that we had, your team is a bit scattered around the world. So tell me more about them and where they are.
This is a global mission. codefuel is about making hearts beat longer, or we're working first towards making women's hearts beat longer. And we can do this just by connecting diversity of cultures of professional backgrounds of ethnical backgrounds. So one of my very best friends and former colleague from Australia Kim, she's our lead designer, based in Brisbane in Australia. Then the cardiologists on board that have been really close to where we are developing are in Canada, Vancouver, Dr. Najah. She's upcoming cardiac surgeon originally from Libya, and based in Vancouver. Dr. Varinda based in Toronto, she was at Cleveland Clinic and so on. Professor Alyson McGregor in the US. The first one who believed in us Professor Sabine Oertelt-Prigione in Germany, Netherlands, here in Switzerland, a group of male doctors and also female doctors supportive and building the network here as well and so on. In Berlin, one of our AI experts, Kate. So many, many people it requires many hands to make this a reality and by having a global team of supporters or team members who want to be engaged, I think we first create the visibility in different areas of the world, and also create something that focuses on let's at the beginning on women, but then we want men on board as well. And actually, we have men on board, like one of the greatest advisors from Tech4Eva Dr. Marco Rüedi was amazing in supporting us. And Ken Wallace, an advisor from Australia, from the business side, and so on so many people who care about their loved women, and also women who care about themselves and their loved women, and so on. So diversity is key. Actually, we start with this from day one, being people centric with the right diversity on board to make sure that we realise our mission.
So this entrepreneur journey hasn't been for a long time. But I have spoken to many entrepreneurs on the show. And one thing I always like to ask because someone will be listening now and saying, "Okay, this is great, but I don't have the means whatever it is to start my own thing and so on." And a lot of times the people I speak with, they tell me about their challenges and how they go about them, and as long as you know what your vision is, and you keep that in mind, you can always make it happen. So now from your end, do you have any major challenges you had to go through that you'd like to share? And how did you go about that?
Well, there are challenges at every corner. But the way in which you look at them as opportunities and stepping stones for something that you know is going to have an impact. What we are doing already has an impact. People know about the problem, little by little, I have this thing of saying "One heart at a time", we take just one heart at a time and then hopefully we'll have the multipliers. Starting something on your own from scratch is super exciting. And you are the creator of something that doesn't exist out there. What are startups if not a solution that is out there to a problem worth solving? And I truly believe in our capacity, and determination, and also intelligence, collective intelligence, to make this a reality, to create a solution that actually can save lives, literally. And when I started, it was through my savings, and it's hard, but I put my time, my resources, my heart, my part of the network, the believers in this, starting with my partner. Without him, I wouldn't have been able to start this. He was the first one to believe in this. And work towards that goal. One of the things that I've been doing well, I think, is just knocking on people's doors. And I found amazing people and through them other amazing people that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to find like you as well, we got connected, right? And here we are, you're a multiplier through your podcast, to bring a message that has the potential to save lives. But one thing is this, if you have an idea, and it's inside of you - just start. Starting something has magic in it, and I'm more or less leveraging the magic in what we're putting forward. Do I know how this is going to end up? No, I don't, because no one has a crystal ball.
I very much love what you said before about seeing every challenge as an opportunity. Because I do believe that it gives you another perspective on that situation and enables you also to mobilise the resources to solve that challenge. You know, with that in mind, do you have any other advice or perhaps your biggest learning throughout this journey so far? Because I'm sure that journey is continuing...
One piece of advice that actually, let's say was more or less some advice and encouragement that I've experienced during the course in the Netherlands, but also that I discovered during the journey is that when you are passionate about something and you want it to become a reality, you forget about yourself. And by not taking care of yourself, like eating healthy, exercising, meeting with friends, or family and so on, going for a walk, petting the cat meditating, if you don't take care of yourself, you cannot achieve anything, you cannot engage with people if you are low in energy, you cannot attract investors, if you're falling asleep at the table, and so on and so forth. And I believe that by taking care of ourselves, and of our inner surroundings, we can create that kind of a safe space that helps us to grow. And then we're able to give back to others, or to work on the solution more effectively, more productively, more optimistically. And, as you said, in your TED Talk, happiness is a driver for success.
Absolutely. I definitely agree with that. And what you're telling me right now, it doesn't come as a surprise. And it also reminds me I think last week, I was speaking to a group of students about leadership and inclusion, and I was focusing actually on leadership as a leader. And I use this image, which I really love, many of us if not everybody has already taken the plane at least once. And one of the safety instructions we always hear is to put on your oxygen mask before you help someone else. And that for me is - That's it! It sums it up. If you don't take care of yourself, nothing of what you want to change in the world, or you want to impact will happen as good as it should, coming back to Cordifio. And my question is more in the sense of, you know, looking forward to the future, let's say, in a couple of years, maybe five to ten years from now, where do you see Cordifio going?
Where we see Cordifio in five to ten years, it's like "the place to go for Women's Health beyond reproduction" The place where answers are there. But also questions are created for answers to be given by women, to women, by men, to women, and men, and so on by experts. It's like a collaborative type of platform. And we want it to be global, like a global community for health and health equity. And we want the patients, the non-patients, the doctors to be part of this. And with heart disease, in particular, making sure that no heart is lost due to something that can be prevented in advance if you have the right knowledge. Yeah, in a nutshell, is to make hearts beat longer.
I really hope that you reach your goal. And that, you know, having you here on the show is also going to help that and maybe accelerate at some point, you never know who's listening. So would you take the opportunity to ask for specific support,
We welcome any type of insight and help that we can get. Actually we are building a pre-order list of those who want to be the early adopters of Cordifio platform. Right now we are still redefining and tweaking, pivoting on the prototype, so we have a working prototype. And the funding would be really beneficial, obviously, to take the prototype and make it a reality. And for that we are building a pre-order list, you can go to our website cordifio.com and sign up to be one of the early adopters. And right now actually, we're working on a crowdfunding campaign where we want people to endorse us and potential users. Hopefully the scale would be reached also with the support from the documentary that we filmed last month with Zack de F and that will help us to get the message out there primetime, hopefully to millions of people because this is a grassroots movement, where this is made by people for people through patience and the experts who believe in sex and gender medicine, because we want to ensure that individualised care is taken seriously.
We are now at the end of the episode. And as you have listened to several of them, I have some specific short questions for you, I can see that you have a pile of books here. So number one, what is on your reading list at the moment or what is on your playlist. Right now?
I'll start with the music because music is the one that touches our souls. I listen to various types during the day. So classical, it helps me focus, especially the Third Symphony by Beethoven, vintage Italian during the day, so you're a little bit happy, and jazz in the evening, just to cool down and that kind of thing. In terms of books right now, what I'm reading is the biography of Shackleton, who is the man who wanted to conquer the south pole, Antarctica. So it's more or less this journey of a man, a pioneer, who believes in the beauty of his dreams, and be the one to reach that point. And it's a journey of exploration, and determination and struggle, and sort of travelling and discovering the unknown. And more or less, actually, when I'm reading through the book, I'm almost finished. I see similarities with the startup world.
Number two, do you have a book or a piece of music that has been really special for you at some point in your life and why?
One book that had a really big impact on me is written by Salman Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, and his book is called The One World Schoolhouse, it's about education, one kid at a time, even one adult at a time here. Education, democratising education and teaching kids or helping kids to learn in different ways with different tools. And it's wonderful what Khan has achieved with his Khan Academy platform, and helping kids, even with learning disabilities, or kids who are curious and so on, to learn things more effectively. And this helped me a lot when after what happened in my family and decided to go and give back to the world in a more, let's say, hands on experience by being a teacher at the Shanti Bhavan, in Tamil Nadu in India, and being part of that journey with the kids who come from very challenging backgrounds, not as lucky as us in western world. But hey, through education, the founder, Dr. George demonstrated that through education, it doesn't matter where you're coming from, you can be a top engineer, top lawyer, get a scholarship, and lift thousands of people out of poverty just with one person, being educated. And actually, as an impact. Talking about education, I highly recommend the Netflix documentary called Daughters of Destiny, which is the story of Shanti Bhavan school, and what amazing things happen out there.
Third and last question, what would be your all time favourite book or even song/band that you would recommend for our audience? You just recommended a Netflix documentary. But do you have any other recommendations?
Yeah, I mean, related to Cordifio, and something that really had a huge impact on what I'm doing today is the book by Professor Alyson McGregor, called "Sex Matters - How male centric medicine endangers women's health, and what we can do about it" as well as Professor Angela Maas and her book, "A Woman's Heart. Why female heart health really matters." Actually, she is one of the female cardiologist pioneers in this field, and was really interesting that at the start of her career, some colleagues told her "Hey, Angela, do you want your career to be finished before it starts? Why are you focusing on heart disease in women?" Those two books are amazing. And obviously everybody knows "Invisible women" which focuses on things beyond healthcare, but all other aspects where women haven't been considered in the design of a product or a service.
Well, I have to say that with Cordifio, and everything that you're doing, you are largely contributing to health equity. I am absolutely glad that we met. And we were also able to have this conversation. And I hope that it's going to inspire at least one or hopefully more of our listeners to support you, or at least one to ask questions around them and to challenge things as they are. Because as we see from the three last recommendations of books that you just gave us, so many things were designed, not including everyone in the population. So there are things to work on and to improve on Petronela. Thank you so very much for taking the time.
Thank you, Claire.
We speak a lot about including diversity in the workplace. And now there is more and more open discussion about the lack of diversity and inclusion in healthcare as well. Petronela is addressing this issue with Cordifio, starting with women's heart health. She is thereby contributing to advance health equity from the gender lens perspective. I have often heard the phrase "women are not little men" in discussions around women's health, and I am glad to see that the field of gender medicine is beginning to gain momentum. I truly hope this will give you food for thought and encourage you to question the status quo around your own health. If you wish to support Petronela and her team, head over to their email@example.com. You will also find the link in the show notes. Thank you so much for tuning in today. I really appreciate your taking the time. That was episode number 38 A Conversation with Petronela Sandulache, and it was our final episode of the season. So join me again for more stories of social impact from global changemakers. In the meantime, I invite you to sign up for our newsletter directly on our homepage at narratives-of-purpose.podcastpage.io. This way you will be informed firsthand about all the podcasts activities, and you will get previews of upcoming guests for the new episodes. Be sure to leave us a review on Apple podcasts, or to rate our show on Spotify. And remember to tell your friends about our podcast and share within your network. If you like the stories we bring you. You can also connect with us through our social handles. You'll find all the links on our website. Until the next episode, and as always, take care of yourselves, stay well and stay inspired!