Toni Reel is a mother, heart disease survivor and American Heart Association volunteer. She’s doing her part to make sure future generations benefit from the American Heart Association’s lifesaving work, just as she did. Toni was diagnosed with an abnormal, fast heart rhythm when she was only a year old. At age 3 she was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW). WPW can affect how the heart beats. In a normal heart, electrical signals use only one path to move through the heart and make it beat. The timing of the electrical signal is important for the heart to beat properly. People with WPW have an extra conduction pathway, so the electrical signal may arrive at the heart’s lower pumping chambers too soon, causing rhythm abnormalities. Toni began taking heart medications as a child. Although she was able to enjoy normal childhood activities like running, playing soccer and cheerleading, she was in the hospital at least once a month for a week at a time either for an attack or to modify her medications. In 1991, at age 18, Toni learned of a new procedure called radiofrequency catheter ablation. It’s a commonly used treatment in which heat is used to physically destroy a small section of heart tissue that’s the source of abnormal electrical activity. The research that led to the widespread use of this procedure was partially funded by the American Heart Association. Toni felt immediate relief after the procedure. She even attended a week-long tennis camp a week after the surgery.
Toni’s experience led her to support the American Heart Association because she knows the value of research in saving lives. Toni speaks and raises funds for the Start! Heart Walk. “I love volunteering for the American Heart Association for several reasons. First, I want to give back to an organization that truly helped me. Second, I get to meet some amazing people — survivors, caregivers, healthcare experts and staff,” she said.