Halloween was always her favorite, a fright-night celebration that never scared a woman who doesn’t let fear stop her — especially on her wedding day.
Ana Mercedes Ortíz, 43, and her partner planned to take their vows Halloween evening in a masquerade themed ceremony.
There’s a lot to celebrate. Ortiz was never meant to live past 30, doctors told her pregnant mother decades ago.
Ortíz was born with a congenital heart condition, missing two out of four vital chambers of her heart, a condition doctors diagnosed before she was born.
“Basically, none of my innards are quite right,” Ortíz said laughing in her Bronx home this week during an interview with the Daily News, casually listing off dozens of medical procedures she’s undergone in her life.
Despite having four major heart surgeries, however, she was determined to live an exceptional life.
“Doctor’s always told me ‘don’t do this or that,’” Ortíz said. “You couldn’t tell me not to do something because I’d just want to do it more.”
Ortíz, who is originally from Puerto Rico, saw her medical diagnosis not as an obstacle, but rather as a challenge.
Dr. Ali Zaidi, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center, has been one of her doctors for five years.
“People like Ana, who are born with congenital heart disease and who have had many operations like this, don’t have the same assemblance of normal that you and I do because a lot of time all they have is hope,” said Zaidi, who has been practicing for over a decade. “They (patients like Ana) live on hope.”
Ortíz has worked most of her adult life as a receptionist, but is most passionate about writing plays, describing herself as “kind of a nerd.” As a child, Ortíz says she enjoyed riding bikes with her brother, rollerblading, street hockey, football and eventually belly dancing.
“It’s supposed to prevent me from doing all of these things but I never let it,” she said. “You do what you want, but you have to know your limitations. You learn to gauge your tolerance to physical activity.”
Ortíz was a military kid who moved around throughout her childhood, living in Puerto Rico, Berlin and Georgia to name a few. Her father, Jose Ortíz, 68, served in the army for 15 years so that his daughter would have her hospital bills paid.
“As long as she’s happy, I am happy,” the beaming retiree said over Zoom. “If I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t be here. I drove all the way from Florida to here (for the wedding).”
During the interview with The News, Ortíz sat in her living room of her Bronx home with her bride-to-be Carmen Soler, 38. They met on the dating app, Plenty Of Fish in November 2017.
“I was dating several people at the time,” Ortíz said, giggling beside her partner. “She told me she was closing her account on the app. She said she had ‘already found what she wanted’...Eventually, I caved.”
Their first date was a dinner and a movie on the Upper West Side, where the pair watched “Justice League.” Despite Ortíz’s reservations on commitment, Soler said knew on the first date she was going to marry Ortíz.
“I love her personality. She’s very open-minded, very unique,” Soler said. “She inspires a lot of people to do better for themselves.”
The engagement was daunting, coming during the coronavirus pandemic. Ortíz broke down in tears describing the obstacles; Soler is an essential worker for the Department of Homeless Services, and contracted the virus in April, leaving the couple separated for four months.
“It was horrible. I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t check on her. I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to marry her,” Ortíz said through tears. “I had to be stuck in my bubble because of my condition.”
Ortíz said that period was particularly difficult because her partner had been a constant source of support prior to the pandemic.
“You know she’s always been there, even when my symptoms got worse. She’s always been good about that," Ortíz said.
A few days ahead of their planned Halloween wedding on Long Island, Ortíz was a busy bride-to-be, working on her home-made decorations and placing the finishing touches on the couple’s first dance — maybe even some belly dancing in the choreographed routine.
Ortíz invited about 20 of loved ones for the 5 p.m. Saturday ceremony, for which Ortíz planned to be dressed like a queen with a veil and gown and Soler would look like a king, wearing a tuxedo and a crown.
“We will both feel like royalty,” Ortíz said.
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