Lola and Her POV
We recently introduced you to the newest contributor on the HipLatina team — Lola Montilla. At only 16, she’s is an advocate and has made quite a wave in raising awareness for congenital heart defects and cardiovascular health. And since her HipLatina debut, she’s already added another impressive accomplishment to her resume — presenting as the keynote speaker at the American Heart Association’s Go Red Event on February 23.
Lola took some time to get up close and personal with us. We touched on the campaigns she’s started, her role in helping to pass critical legislation for heart health in Puerto Rico, and most importantly, how she manages to find time to be a normal teenager! Here’s what she had to say.
HipLatina: Hola Lola! Sorry, didn’t realize that would be such a #rhymedrop… Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions! I wanted to first ask about the recovery process following your surgery. It seems you quickly bounced back both physically and emotionally. And you didn’t just make it a personal journey, you focused on helping others by sharing your experiences through #TeamLola and the #RockYourScar campaign. How did you make such a quick and impassioned turnaround? And we all have days of weakness—what is your secret to finding such inspirational inner strength?
Lola Montilla: Well, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds because it took a lot of time to get back to where I was physically and emotionally. Even the simplest things were tough—being able to talk without wanting to fall asleep mid-sentence, learning to walk again, and being able to sit down without my tailbone hurting. It was a long and convoluted process that I had to go through, but I knew I had to be strong and get through it. Once I was back on track, everything was AMAZING! Helping others was part of my healing process and that helped me feel like my whole process was worth it. I’ve had my days of weakness and I still get them once in a while—I’m not superhuman. But when I do feel weak, I tend to think of what’s waiting ahead for me. In other words, what’s next and how will I bounce back. Sometimes you just need a jumpstart. My key for finding inner strength is going back to where you came from—you can’t lose that sense of demureness that you once had when you were at your lowest. Remember that you rose from that chapter in your life to become the person you are today. I think once you have that clear, it’s easier to be stronger in any situation.
HL: Not everyone has had the chance to take a selfie with former #FLOTUS Michelle Obama—and more importantly, talk with her about pressing issues in body image and heart disease. You mentioned that you would need an entire blog to cover everything you talked about (and here at HipLatina we hope to give you that outlet to share your voice)! To start off, what do you think is the most memorable moment that you shared with her?
LM: Meeting Michelle Obama was such a remarkable experience! It not only proved the benefits of hard work, but it also gave me a lot more inspiration to continue what I’m doing and to not stop what I’ve already started. Although every moment with her was unforgettable, there was one that I’ll hold close to my heart—we talked about boy problems! It made me giggle at my own bubbly, teenage life. That just topped off the afternoon, it was incredible to hear the #FLOTUS talk to me about how guys my age just can’t keep up with strong women like us! Not the most serious moment, but so memorable and real.
HL: You were instrumental in the passing of Lola’s Law—requiring a test of all newborns’ oxygen saturation in the blood before being discharged from the hospital. To be an active lobbyist before even graduating from high school is quite an accomplishment! As people seek to become more actively involved in issues that matter to them in their communities, what advice do you have for them?
LM: I cannot emphasize this enough. You have to speak up for what you are passionate about. You don’t have to have a groundbreaking experience in life to get started. If there’s any issue that sets you off a bit, that’s enough to start a movement and to make a change. You can’t wait for someone else to do it, you need to do what you believe is right. Once you’re already on your way, then you can find others who share your concerns.
HL: While recording one of the videos of your journey, you stated that you wanted the surgery to represent only one chapter in your life’s “book.” And it looks like you’ve already written many inspiring chapters after that one! So we’re curious to know, what chapter is coming next?
LM: The funny thing is that when I did that video, I really thought my heart condition was just going to be one chapter. I thought the surgery was going to be the end of my life as “the girl with that heart thing.” Since then I’ve learned that “that heart thing” will always be a part of me, as the surgery wasn’t a cure. And that’s alright as long as I remind myself that I don’t suffer from a heart defect and instead thrive in spite of a heart defect. As of right now, I want my career to take off as a public speaker, advocate and an influencer, not only in Puerto Rico but worldwide. I feel that so many people can benefit from getting inspired and feeling a spark that will move them toward their goal on an issue that concerns them, and I want to be that inspiration. Throughout my travels, my posts, and my public appearances, I have found that there is a REAL NEED for people to be inspired, to wake up from the daily blah, and see that there is so much more to life than just drifting by. Of course, there is that other chapter that I need to work on which is my school life. Combining that with my social life and all the things that move me sometimes takes its toll. But I LOVE it and wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the rush I get from doing what I do and I love the results as well.
HL: You mentioned that you’re not superhuman, but I’d have to disagree! If anything you’re at least a superhero. But even superheroes need to have some fun, right? What do you most like to do when you have time to unwind?
LM: Superhero? LOL! Even with my super busy schedule that includes both school and my advocacy work, which is odd for a teen, I ALWAYS find some time for fun. I’m probably the biggest party person too — I will never miss a party or a day to hang out with my friends. My social life is so important to me. And no, by social life I don’t mean what takes place on social media. Real life interactions with my friends keep me balanced. Sometimes I do have to sacrifice the makeup and heels to just sit down and do nothing because after a long week or a tough day, there is nothing better than sitting down on the terrace and having a chat with my parents, or going to watch a foreign film and having my parents to laugh or cry with. Those are the little moments I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Impressed yet? If not, there’s plenty more Lola to come. Check back soon for the first installment of Lola’s Perspectiva – AKA Lola’s POV.