As I get closer to celebrating the first four years after my heart surgery, I reflect on one of the things I’ve been most grateful for since day one: the group of people who have been there to support me. I recall a Sunday night, at my favorite restaurant, being told I was going to need heart surgery. I remember my mom crying, my dad holding my hand, and my only worry was “Who am I gonna tell first?” Today, this army of support and well wishers is over 5k followers strong. I had no idea that this team was going to become this large! I am eternally thankful for everything and everyone that is with me.
When Team Lola was born I began to receive something beautiful. I came home after school to read heartfelt messages that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this whole situation, it was as if everyone who was supporting me, was going through the surgery with me. I received pictures of people I didn’t even know, holding a Team Lola sign saying ‘Be Strong and Be Brave.’ The amount of people with me, close and far, were with me.
Solidarity. There’s not a better fitting word. Solidarity is “the unity or the agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” I was blessed with amazing doctors that were able to identify what I needed and not only cured me, but gave me, without knowing, an idea as to how I should live my life. “There’s no better feeling than seeing your patient succeed,” said one of my doctors. So I wanted to go the extra mile to make them proud and make them feel like they didn’t waste their time on me. I documented and posted everything that happened to me because I knew that there were people waiting for me, who wanted to know how I was doing. So I pushed through. I pushed through for my family, and for the people who were waiting for me to get out. I can’t even begin to explain how anxious and emotional my parents were, I did it for them, because they’ve done it all for me, I wasn’t gonna let them down. I wanted to get out of there with flying colors!
As I look back on those days, it feels a lot like what the island is going through right now. It’s not a health issue or an open heart surgery but it’s a story of destruction and defeat, but also a story about getting back up again. Puerto Rico is getting support from everywhere around the world. So many celebrities rallying for us, everyone from Ricky Martin, Ellen Degeneres, Lin Manuel Miranda, to J-Lo, Marc Anthony and Alex Rodríguez who raised an unprecedented amount of money to provide aid to those in need. Bethenny Frankel who spent so much time on the island and brought planes and planes of supplies, celebrity chef Jose Andrés, who came here and served over 2 million meals. They are saying “get back up! Keep fighting!” and so we do.
Everyone has that passion and that motivation to help, but sometimes we get stuck in a daily rut that desensitizes us making it hard to empathize and relate to the problems that are going on around us. The world needs solidarity now more than ever. We’re living in a time of injustice, and separation. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should be working towards finding what we can do to be united and to fight together for what brings us closer together.
After my surgery I realized this. Since then I receive messages asking me for support, asking me for prayers, and I give them out the same way I received them. I knew how important it was to me, so I think everybody should receive that support when they feel like it’s needed. I feel honored to be able to give back to those who need it in their times of despair, the same way they gave this support to me.
I have been blessed with the beauty of family, friends, and supporters that have been with me when I’ve felt down, sick, judged, or needed someone to vent to. Today I realize that Team Lola was not a short-term thing. It was not just a temporary group that I used only when I needed it. It’s a family that keeps growing and developing as the time passes and as people need a place to run away to when they need someone to talk to or someone to give them a confidence boost. (If you haven’t yet, I’m inviting you to join the group and feel free to message me there whenever you need it.) Be kind, offer support.
I am a product of solidarity, and so, with this “heart anniversary” I intend to honor my journey. The next four years I plan to travel more, to inspire more and expose myself more to experiences that prove what a little hope and some wise words can do to change someone’s life. I want to continue writing to further relate to those who read me around the world. I want to change the world, little by little, and the support everyone has given me can allow me to do that.