Rayah Schwartz was a seemingly healthy 12-year-old who loved playing soccer and being active. But on December 29th, a youth-league soccer game quickly turned into a medical nightmare when Rayah suddenly collapsed on the field in front of her parents and teammates.
Rayah was rushed off to the hospital, where doctors determined that a combination of cold medicine and dehydration had caused her to faint. But in the process of running an ECG test, they also discovered something much more frightening: As it turns out, Rayah had been living for years with a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome without knowing it.
“Her ECG came back abnormal,” says Mandy Schwartz, Rayah’s mother. “Apparently she was born with it and we just never knew it because she’s never shown any symptoms.”
Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome is a heart condition in which there is an abnormal extra electrical pathway of the heart, leading to episodes of rapid heart rate, or tachycardia. WPW is a treatable condition but the consequences can be dire if left undetected. Without treatment, it can lead to heart complications and, in rare cases, sudden cardiac death.
Rayah received a catheter ablation on March 11 to eliminate the accessory pathways and the possibility of sudden cardiac death and is now cured of WPW.
“We feel so blessed that we discovered the problem before something terrible happened,” Mandy says. “If she hadn’t gotten the ECG, we might have not known until it was too late.”
Inspired to prevent fellow teens from undergoing what she experienced on the soccer field, Rayah launched 26Cares, a service project dedicated to raising awareness about WPW and other heart conditions. “26” is the number on Rayah’s soccer jersey, and the project is a way for Rayah to educate her community about a common yet under-diagnosed health issue. Through 26Cares, Rayah leverages the power of social media to disseminate information, facts and resources about WPW and encourage all physically-active teens to receive an ECG screening, which are offered for free at Miami Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center.
“A simple ECG test can mean the difference between life and death,” Rayah explains.
“She’s sharing the story because she doesn’t want friends or other family or teens to go through what they did. All her teammates saw her drop, and it was frightening for everybody involved,” says Mandy. “She was very fortunate to walk off the field by herself that day.”