(NEW ORLEANS) — Toni Wild finished her first marathon on Sunday, an impressive feat for anybody. Still, what makes Wild’s accomplishment so incredible is that she had to overcome two bouts with breast cancer and heart failure to run it.
Wild, 50, was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29 in 1992. Chemotherapy and radiation left her cancer-free for five years. Tragically, a mere week after she had been given a clean bill of health, her husband was struck and killed by a car while changing a tire during a trip the two of them had taken.
Doctors asked whether Wild wanted to donate his organs, something they’d never talked about before.
“I made that decision,” she said. “I was actually able to provide three families with a second chance at life.”
Her breast cancer came back a year after that. She would have to undergo more chemotherapy and radiation, but once again she was cancer-free by 1998.
However, all that chemotherapy had done damage to her heart. After an initial struggle to get doctors to listen to her suspicion that she had more than a minor illness, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, three months after her last round of chemotherapy. Her heart wasn’t able to pump enough blood to the rest of her body.
For the next 11 years, Wild lived with varying signs and symptoms of heart failure, but medications and regular rest allowed her to live normally. The extreme fatigue and shortness of breath returned when she was 46. Wild’s heart was worn out, and if she didn’t get a heart transplant, she would die.
Only a week after doctors put her on the transplant list, the phone rang. She had a heart.
“It makes me realize there’s so much truth in the statement of ‘paying it forward,'” she said. “In 1997, when I decided to donate my husband’s organs, I had absolutely no idea, would not even fathom the thought that, years down the road, I would find myself in that exact situation of needing a heart.”
Now, she runs simply because she can. She says her donor allowed her to do something she never thought possible, so she doesn’t say, “I ran seven half marathons,” she says, “We ran seven half marathons.”
On Sunday, four years after the transplant, she ran her first full marathon, called Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans. It took her six hours and 36 minutes because a virus kept her from training for 23 days before the race, but she finished.
“It was absolutely the most incredible day of my life,” she said.
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