Toni Wild, 49, Hattiesburg, MS
Heart transplant recipient

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Toni Wild is a survivor. And not just because she fought two life- threatening diseases and lived to tell the tale, but because she did it with a smile and everlasting hope, even when she lost her first love.

Though the events that occurred seem like more trials than one could endure in a lifetime, Toni doesn't see it that way. "I'm just an ordinary person with an extraordinary story," she says.

When merely 29, Toni was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news turned her world momentarily upside down, but she dove into treatment ready to fight back. Little did she know, surviving chemotherapy was only the first of many battles to come.

In 1997, just one week after Toni's doctors gave her clearance to return to normal life, she lost her first husband. The two were driving to visit family, and as he was changing a flat tire on the side of an interstate, a car struck him in broad daylight.

After doctors declared him brain dead, Toni made the official decision to turn off his life support and donate his organs. "It made the loss of my loved one just a little bit easier, knowing that I was helping families out there extend the lives of their family members," she says.

As difficult as it was to return to normalcy, Toni held her head high and moved forward with her life. But her struggle wasn't over. A year after his death, when Toni was finally feeling back on track, she found a new lump in her breast. "I knew it was breast cancer," she said. She began chemotherapy for a second time, again defeating cancer, but this time emerging treatment with a damaged heart.

She suffered from mild symptoms of heart disease for 12 years, but they were never enough to cause serious alarm. That was, however, until a cough Toni dismissed as a common cold escalated to extreme exhaustion, and she was hospitalized for weeks. "Doctors told me my heart function had decreased to the point that was almost incompatible with life," she says.

With no options left, Toni agreed to wait for a heart transplant. "I told them I was ready to do anything and everything in order to do this heart transplant," she says. "I wasn't ready to die. There were too many things out there that I still wanted to do; I felt like there was too much life left in me."

After a week of waiting, she got the call: the doctors had found a match and she was ready for her transplant.

This moment made her think back to her first husband, and how his organ donation had saved lives. "Little did I know, 12 years later I would find myself in that exact same situation – a situation that would require a transplant in order for me to survive," she said. "And lucky for me, there was an individual out there who was generous enough to donate their loved one's heart to me, to provide me a second chance at life, and give me the greatest gift of all."

Toni emerged from her operation a new woman. "I just remember waking up, and for the first time in months being able to breathe without being short of breath, and having color back in my cheeks," she said. "It's the first time I remember feeling good."

Six weeks later, Toni was back at the gym, and shorty after that she was training for half marathons. "I don't do it simply because I love it, I do it simply because I can," she said.

"It just goes to show you that regardless of the circumstances, or any obstacles, you can live with heart disease, and live beyond it," said Toni. "And that's my goal: to inspire others and let them know that heart disease does not have to take your life, it can fulfill your life."