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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Overcoming congenital defect, WSU student puts heartfelt action into Coug cheers

Maddy Reyes will wear red clothes on Friday – although her color choice might skew more crimson.

A Washington State University sophomore on the school’s cheer team, Reyes, 19, knows what it’s like to have heart issues as a survivor of a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot.

Friday is the American Heart Association’s national Go Red for Women day. People who wear red can raise funds and are encouraged to talk about the fight against heart disease and stroke among women.

At 4 months old, Reyes had open-heart surgery to correct the congenital issues. Since then, providers have told her family that she’ll likely need another procedure later in life.

Tetralogy of Fallot is a common defect, Reyes said. It meant four things were wrong with her heart. One issue was a hole in the heart between the lower chambers, which her surgery at Seattle Children’s fixed.

“The second part was an obstruction from the heart to the lungs, and then the third part was the aorta – a blood vessel in the heart; it lies over the hole in the lower chambers so it’s blocking the hole,” Reyes said.

“The fourth thing wrong is the muscle around the lower chamber becomes very thick.”

As part of the early surgery, specialists also removed her pulmonary valve, one of four valves that controls blood flow in the heart. Reyes said she continues to live a healthy and athletic life without that pulmonary valve until her doctor deems it necessary to replace it.

“What they’re waiting for right now is once I notice that I’m having a harder time exercising or living my day-to-day life – if I feel any issues – I would tell them, and then we’d probably schedule another surgery to put the pulmonary valve back in,” she said.

“They’re waiting for as long as possible, but at some point, I’m going to have to have a pulmonary valve put in. It would be a robotic valve or an animal valve, like a pig valve.”

But since early in life, Reyes said health providers have told her to continue exercising and doing cheer, because she has remained in good health.

Reyes is a longtime American Heart Association volunteer. When she isn’t in Pullman, home is Blaine, Washington.

“I’m studying human development with a focus on prevention science right now,” she said. “I’m hoping in the future to work for the American Heart Association. I’m thinking an advocacy job, and also possibly a lobbyist in my future.”

She doesn’t have any estimates on when a future surgery might happen. Each year, she sees her doctor for an annual assessment. Reyes said she’s never had any issues while cheering.

“I pretty much have no limits when it comes to exercising,” she said. “The only thing they do tell me is if I do feel my heart racing at all, or any palpitations, I should stop and sit down. That’s never happened.”

More babies with congenital heart defects are surviving and living full lives because of technology and advancements in surgeries, she said. Congenital issues range in severity, and hers is considered in the middle of that range, she said. It doesn’t affect her quality of life.

Reyes started cheerleading at age 5 and did competitive cheer programs through high school. Her WSU team cheers at men’s and women’s football, basketball and volleyball games. As a younger team member, she doesn’t travel as much as seniors, so she’s mainly at home games.

But as a petite member at 5-foot-1, she’s one of the teammates who does the aerobatics to be caught by a teammate on the ground. There’s also high-level stunts of stacking for pyramid formations, tumbling backflips and team cheering to get the crowd involved.

“I think my favorite part of cheer would just be the people on the team,” she said. “I really have built a good community and a group of friends with the cheer team, and also, I love stunt team.”

Reyes said cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women. The association holds Go Red to raise awareness.

On Friday, Spokane health facilities that are scheduled to shine red lights include MultiCare Deaconess Hospital, Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Providence Medical Park, Providence St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Medical Center and Providence Holy Family Hospital.

Learn more or set up a fundraiser at