Adult Congenital Heart Patient Beats the Odds, and Has Her Dream Wedding

When Ana Mercedes Soltíz mother was pregnant with her, doctors told her mom that Ana would most likely not live past 30 years old. Now 43, Ana just married her partner, Carmen Soler, on Halloween night.

Ana Mercedes was born with a number of complications from congenital heart conditions: she was born with heterotaxy syndrome, a condition in which the internal organs are abnormally arranged in the chest and abdomen. It can also alter the structure of the heart where only one side of the heart is functioning normally. There are also problems with the connections of the large vessels to the heart that carry blood to and from the rest of the body. “Basically, none of my innards are quite right,” Ana Mercedes laughed during an interview with The Daily News.  She has had four major heart surgeries and dozens of medical procedures.

Some of the procedures she has undergone are meant to circulate blood directly to the lungs. This includes a Fontan procedure, which reroutes blood flow from the lower body directly to the lungs. Despite her condition, Ana Mercedes has been determined to live an exceptional life. “Doctors always told me ‘don’t do this or that,’” she said. “You couldn’t tell me not to do something because I’d just want to do it more.” As a child, Ana Mercedes 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.”

Her doctor, Ali N. Zaidi, MD, an Adult Congenital Heart Disease cardiologist at the Mount Sinai Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center, has been on her medical team for the last few years. “People like Ana, who are born and grow up with congenital heart disease, and who have had many heart operations like this, don’t have the same perspective on ‘normal’ that you and I do,” said Dr. Zaidi, who has been practicing for over a decade. “Many a time, all they have is hope.”

And this year, Ana Mercedes’ dream of a Halloween-themed wedding came true. She met her spouse-to-be, Carmen, on the dating app Plenty of Fish in November 2017. “I love her personality. She’s very open-minded, very unique,” Carmen said. However, with the pandemic, the couple had major obstacles to overcome throughout their engagement. In April, Carmen came down with COVID-19, 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,” Ana Mercedes said through tears.

But Ana supported Carmen through her illness—just as Carmen supported Ana through her many medical difficulties. And on Halloween night, the couple celebrated with about 20 friends and family members on Long Island. Ana had made the decorations herself, and even choreographed their first dance. Ana dressed as a queen with a veil and gown, and Carmen walked down the aisle as a king, with a tuxedo and crown. “We felt like royalty,” Ana said.

Ana Mercedes has used her experience to bring hope to others struggling with similar conditions by writing “Saving Elena,” a fictionalized stage play about a young woman struggling with congenital heart disease.

"I love Dr. Z! When I became an adult, it was extremely difficult to find a cardiologist who truly understood the complexity of my heart disease and everything that comes with it, but he understands. Not only that but he is just an amazing human being. He always makes me laugh and is very forthright when it comes to my care. I wouldn't trade him and his team for anything in the world," says Ana Mercedes of her care.