Sofia Montoya has been telling her story for as long as she can remember: She was born with Holt-Oram, a syndrome that meant her heart was on the wrong side of her chest, her right hand was missing a thumb and her intestines were jumbled.
Now a sophomore at the University of Colorado, Montoya was selected to be one of eight women nationwide to represent the American Heart Association's women's heart health initiative, Go Red for Women, in 2019. She was selected after an interview process that included a video submission.
In the hours and months after her birth, Montoya underwent several surgeries, including open heart surgery. When she was 7, the scar tissue from the heart surgery slowed the pace of her heart. She was scheduled to have a pacemaker implanted, which she promptly turned into a show-and-tell for her fellow third-graders. She explained to them the process and why she'd be missing school for several weeks.
"I always wanted people to know about it and never just assume," she said. "It's always been something I'm very open about."
Montoya became involved with the Denver branch of the American Heart Association about five years ago, and she has continued to share her story at events and fundraisers in the area, which she'll now do on a national stage.
"I'm really passionate about this because when I was growing up, I didn't know anyone else even close to my age that had a heart condition or that had had surgery to the extent that I have, or had a pacemaker," she said. "I never knew anyone that I could really relate to."
American Heart Association officials said the eight women chosen for the Go Red campaign will share their survivor stories to raise awareness and inspire others to take charge of their heart health.
The women "are national volunteers selected to represent a diverse sisterhood of survivors, who actively, urgently and passionately participate in the Association's Go Red for Women movement," according to a news release.
Sofia Montoya's parents, David and Annette Montoya, who live in Englewood, said they've never pushed her to become an advocate and they've reminded her that school comes first, but they're proud of all she's accomplished.
"We never pushed her as parents," David Montoya said. "We never said, 'Hey, because of what you did, and what the doctors did, you've got to go back and do this.' We never pushed her. She said she wanted to do it. When people would ask her, she never hesitated."
She's always been go-go-go, they said, and she sought to keep up with her older brother, Donnie, even as a baby scooting along behind him.
"Sometimes I used to think that she is the way she is — happy, always on the go, and wanting to do it all — because the first five months of her life she was so sick and didn't smile very much because she was really sick with a hole in heart," Annette Montoya said. "I think the feeling she got ... getting her heart fixed, she felt so good, physically. I always felt like, after that, there was always a smile on her face."
Sofia Montoya said the main message she hopes to impart is to never give up, and she hopes to connect with others and continue sharing her story.
"I am so excited to be looking forward to the opportunities that I'm going to get to raise awareness and share my story," she said.
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org