Lola Keynote Speaker 2017
Photo: Courtesy of Lola Montilla

Why This 16-Year Old Is A Keynote Speaker for American Heart Association GoRed Lunch

Honoring National Heart Awareness Month with the Newest HipLatina, Lola Montilla

February is National Heart Awareness Month, and what better way to honor this month than with a new contributor to the HipLatina family! At only 16 years old, Lola Montilla from Puerto Rico is our youngest contributor. But I think you’ll agree she has a lot to share, no matter what your age is.

Lola was born with Ebstein’s anomaly—a rare defect that accounts for only 1% of congenital heart diseases and causes the heart to work at a much more accelerated pace than normal. This disease does not always result in harmful complications, and until Lola entered middle school she lived a mostly normal life. Though at that point things began to change—Lola felt a shortness of breath from normal daily activities like climbing the stairs. When she started to become so short of breath that she was turning blue in the face, Lola needed increased attention from her doctors in Puerto Rico. They began to discuss her condition with advanced specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who believed she would be a good candidate for an innovative cone reconstructive procedure for the tricuspid valve—the crux of what causes the Ebstein’s anomaly in itself.

As you might imagine, this is something more than any 13 year old should have to stomach. When most kids her age are thinking about when summer vacation will start or what gifts they’ll be getting for their next birthday, Lola was thinking about much more serious matters, and was forced to grow up very quickly. Before even setting off for Rochester to meet with specialists, Lola had a special request for her parents. She stated, “I know you guys want to keep all of this a secret, and I know you want to protect me, but I need people to know what’s going on because I don’t want people making up stories. I want people to know exactly what’s going on, and that I’m going to be fine.”

From this early point, Lola took action and knew that she could become a strong role model for others. She knew that she needed to be a fighter—living in fear would only bring her down. She didn’t let it get to her when just hours before the surgery, doctors discovered that she also had an arterial septum defect which would make the procedure more complicated. But Lola went through the surgery courageously, and was ready to head back home to Puerto Rico after just one week of recovery—despite some initial hesitations from her madre as to whether she was ready, of course!

Lola was lucky to have a strong team fighting for her throughout her journey. The Team Lola Facebook page and blog drew lots of support from across the globe—even from celebrities like Sofia Vergara. But Lola took this support and turned it into something much larger. Following the surgery, she channeled the support she received into inspiration for others who may be going through similarly difficult situations. The surgery left a scar down her chest, which Lola states she “really really likes.” She particpated the #RockYourScar campaign to voice her support in ending issues surrounding self-esteem and body image shame. That really puts things in perspective when you’re thinking about that bad hair or bad makeup day.

We sat down with Lola to chat with her about her journey, and what an inspiration she is to HipLatina. Her most impressive achievement to date—meeting with former FLOTUS Michelle Obama last year through the Make a Wish Foundation. She’ll also be the keynote speaker at the American Heart Association’s Go Red Event on February 23, 2017 in Rochester. Check back for our next installment of Lola’s Perspectiva to read our interview with her, and be ready to be inspired.