Meet 5 of the Coastal Bend’s strongest individuals who have overcome major transformations of the mind, body and soul. Their stories teach valuable lessons on strength, perseverance, and the power of believing.
Azyluh “Lulu” Ramirez
Lulu has a BIG heart, and an even bigger battle with it. Before Lulu was born, a genetics doctor had diagnosed her (while in utero) with having only half a heart. The doctors offered Lulu’s parents money to abort the pregnancy and have the fetus sent off for medical studies as her heart condition is rare – roughly 2 of every 10,000 births. Giving that offer not even a moment’s thought, they refused. They wanted to give their precious baby girl a chance for life even though they were aware of the fight, the battle, the literal heartache. The diagnosis, Unbalanced Avtrioventricular Canal Heart Defect, is a congenital heart defect that involves several abnormalities of structures inside the heart. But the condition comes with a few other problems, namely Polysplenia (her spleen is in pieces) and Heterotaxy (a low immune system).
This heart defect has affected Lulu’s life in ways that limit her physical activities, as any bacteria or germ she encounters causes her to become ill quickly. When playing outside, she becomes tired very easily, may start coughing and choking since when her body can’t gather the oxygen she needs. Now in the first grade, recess is something she watches from the windows. But her teachers sure appreciate the company!
During Winter or flu season, Lulu curbs some of these adverse reactions by getting up to 3 different vaccinations to help prevent her from becoming ill with the Flu or any illness. Any little cough from another child or her sibling that she encounters can make her become sick with pnuemonia, heart issues, respiratory infections, and several other illnesses. At times, she can become hospitalized for several days to weeks.
The struggle for Lulu will be lifelong. This, physically, will never be something that Lulu can overcome. But mentally and in Lulu’s soul, she’s a happy and vivacious 6-year-old girl who lives life to the fullest, never letting her obstacles stop her from hanging out with her family and friends, eating her favorite foods, and playing her favorite games. Although this fight is ongoing, she has overcome the hardest part: A total of 4 open-heart surgeries to help correct her heart.
“During Lulu’s transformation, our family and the community have all helped to make it easier. They have all been there to support Lulu and help bring her spirits up. During her hospital stays, she would receive many gifts, greeting cards, and visitors of people. We had no idea who they were but followed her on her Facebook page and were touched by her and her story,” Jason Ramirez, Lulu’s dad, shares.
Facing adversity is hard for anyone, but it can sometimes be most inspiring coming from a sweet young girl. “We hope Lulu’s story can give others a glimpse of hope, a bit of inspiration. Lulu has been through so much in her short life that we, as adults, have never even had to go through,” Ramirez says. So many times, doctors told them that Lulu would not make it through. Lulu is sure out to prove them wrong! This loving, caring, ambitious little girl is changing others and changing the world.
Depression can be widely misunderstood. Seasonal depression, manic depression, and circumstantial depression to name a few, result from a chemical imbalance in the brain that leads to a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. An estimated 19 million American adults live with depression, and Tim Tate was one of them. He suffered through three major depression episodes within a 10-year span. “During this time, not only did I have to work full-time, but I went back to school and received a Bachelors and Graduate degree,” says Tate.
But despite those successes, Tate fought depression that affected his thoughts and actions. Tate recalls that his “Thoughts were cloudy and negative. It was hard to remember words. Life seemed hopeless. Energy is depleted, so everyday tasks become difficult.” Moreover, it turned physical, where his muscles became sore and joints became stiff. “It feels as if you are walking in wet cement and it hurts to get up and walk across the room,” explains Tate.
The feeling is of complete and total despair. Tate likens himself to the TV show characters in “The Walking Dead” (before it was a show, of course!). You’re going through the motions, but that’s about it.
Once the disease started to become physical, Tate decided it was time to see a doctor. “I was prescribed medicine that made me feel worse. I remembered that running made me feel good and I slowly began to run again and exercise became my anti-depressant. I also met a couple counselors along the way. One was my first yoga teacher and the other became my employer. They helped me to change my way of thinking, which resulted in changing my way of feeling,” says Tate.
He owes much of his transformation to God, his parents, nephew, friends, enemies, and himself! He has also devised a “formula” to stay on the straight and narrow. It’s a cognitive triangle where Mind, Spirit/Energy, and Body all integrate together to affect your thoughts, feelings and actions. All must be in a positive, symbiotic motion, and given equal attention to, to make a strong and happy YOU.
Tate wants anyone suffering with depression to understand one thing: “There are things you can do to feel better. It is never too late to become the person you are meant to be. Second chances and new beginnings happen every day. And you get to decide what those are.”
Tate currently is a therapist in a private practice, where he facilitates a depression support group that teaches mindfulness and mental health to families. He also mentors a monthly labyrinth walk. Tate’s advises that “Realizing our dreams as part of the process is a way to look at it. It is possible to overcome obstacles to those dreams, but a lot of times that requires getting over ourselves. Everything begins in our minds and when we learn how to control the way we think, we can control the way we feel and become successful in everything we do.”
Sara Carrion Perrone
In June, 2010, Sara Carrion Perrone’s life changed. Not just hers, but her entire family’s. Parrone was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. “At that time I had a very stressful job, and meeting the work load was a struggle and almost impossible to keep up with while I adjusted to a new normal,” remembers Perrone. This “new normal” involved a daily oral chemotherapy regimen, known as Gleevec, which made Perrone sick to her stomach almost every day, paired with a battle of moderate-high fatigue levels. Most days, by three o’clock, Perrone was exhausted, often falling asleep in the early evenings and waking up to catch up on work late at night.
But, Perrone felt the need for a second opinion about a year after diagnosis. Something deep in her gut told her she needed to speak to another specialist. So she scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson where she and was placed on a number of other oral chemotherapy drugs, Tasigna, and eventually Sprycel. “My family, friends and I prayed one of the medications would be the answer to all our prayers,” says Perrone.
Perrone can attest to the old adage “it gets worse before it gets better,” as right before the Holiday season in 2014, her doctors informed her that her body wasn’t reacting to the drugs as they’d hoped. It was time for a stem-cell transplant – they simply couldn’t wait any longer.
For about four years, Perrone protected her daughter, Isabella, from her diagnosis. She did not want the fear and the unknown to disrupt her daughter’s life. Many “work trips” brought her to Houston over the years, and it wasn’t until the stem cell transplant was necessary that it was critical to have the long anticipated conversation with Isabella, her one and only true donor match. Perrone notes that the biggest step in her transformation process was sharing her diagnosis with Isabella. She was only 8-years old when Perrone was diagnosed, and now, at 12, she was her mom’s only shot at life.
Perrone’s family and friends were instrumental in helping her in the fight against cancer. Her mom and dad helped make ends meet, and David, then long-time love and now husband, took care of Isabella. “There were many times when I simply didn’t have the strength to fight. But my faith in God always helped me when I was weak or afraid,” says Perrone. And He came through.
Rachel A. Botello-Cox
It all started with pain in the wrist. It was broken perhaps? However, Rachel A. Botello-Cox started to think that maybe it was something more, as soon the pain began to migrate to different joints all over her body. “I experienced severe pain, low energy and extreme fatigue. Not knowing what was going on took a toll on my body emotionally, spiritually and physically. I would barely make it through my workday,” Botello-Cox recalls. Severe exhaustion, weight gain, and an unusual rash on her lower back symptomized what was soon to be diagnosed as Lupus. But the doctor’s initial findings were inconclusive, were incorrect. Initially, she was misdiagnosed with many different conditions, until she was finally administered an Anti-nuclear antibodies test.
“After the [Lupus] diagnosis, I was referred to a rheumatologist. I was immediately placed on Plaquenil. I asked the doctor for information on natural treatments and if she knew of anyone she could refer me to for alternative medicine. I was basically ignored,” says Botello-Cox. Upon pushing for additional information on the disease, the nurse practitioner advised her not to search the internet as “it will scare the hell out of you.”
It definitely has been an evolutionary process. Botello-Cox wanted to find someone who treated this diagnosis with alternative medicine. Her spiritual journey has been instrumental in the healing process, where she discovered that she can be a co-creator with the Creator. “I started visiting a local alternative medicine doctor. Simultaneously, I started exercising and forcing myself to be more active in spite of the pain. It started with a walk-at-home video and progressed to run walking, Zumba, circuit training, TRX, ballroom dancing and yoga. I have participated in Harbor Half, You Go Girl, and Beach to Bay relays. My favorite is ballroom dancing and yoga,” says Botello-Cox.
Diet also has played a huge role. She learned what type of foods caused inflammation, began making green smoothies and taking natural supplements that aid in reducing inflammation. Meditation has also been a key. “What I believe helped me understand my diagnosis is when the doctor described it as my cells being at ‘war’ with each other. It saddened me to think I was at war with myself! For me that was incredible information,” explains Botello-Cox. During her meditations, she began talking to her cells and affirming they are in peace and harmony with each other.
The power of thought, optimism, and a grateful heart became Botello-Cox’s mantra. “I once heard someone describe emotions as energy in motion. If my emotions are negative and I don’t process them in a constructive manner they will manifest themselves somewhere in my body as disease. I’m also very conscious of the language I use. I don’t say I have lupus, I say I have been diagnosed with it,” says Botello-Cox. Not engaging in negative “talk” has also been incredibly instrumental. Botello-Cox says she does her best to “say what I mean, mean what I say and not be mean when I say it.”
Staying positive keeps her symptoms at bay, as does her support system, which consists of her husband, daughter, family members and friends. She is also a member of a group that calls themselves the Inquiring Minds Dinner Discussion (IMDD) group. They meet monthly and have created a place to explore, challenge and question each other’s beliefs and ideas, and most importantly, feel safe doing so. “I would like for others to know that their own source of power comes from within. It starts with changing the way we think about ourselves. I hope to inspire people to stand in their light and follow their hearts to a more spiritual, healthy and happy life.”
Botella-Cox acknowledges that struggles are a part of life, but instead of approaching them kicking and screaming, she’s chosen to handle them with grace. “I also heard someone say, it’s not what you endure, it’s how you endure it. I wish for anyone reading this article to find what works for you and to not die with your music still in you. Be in charge of your recovery. Be proactive, ask questions, remember you have choices and know you can make a difference in your healing. Your spirit is never sick, so tap into that energy and use it to lead you back to physical wellness. Dance like nobody is watching and enjoy every minute of your precious life,” reminds Bottelo-Coz.
By kindergarten, Virginia Metz was 90 pounds. Her smile, her positivity, her charisma, and her bubbly personality always made her well liked, but she knew she wasn’t built like many of her classmates. “Nothing was politically correct back in the day, Metz explains. “All kids had to participate in the Presidential Fitness test. This required amazing physical feats for a chunky kid. I was the last one to come in on the 600-yard dash and was so embarrassed. The flex arm hang was pretty embarrassing, too, as I could not hold myself for one second.” Then there was prom. Metz got a date at over 200 lbs and a winning personality. However, the only dress that would fit was a “Little Bo Peep rendition of a prom gown…Oh the terror!” Metz recalls. Growing up, there was no Lane Bryant or plus sized clothing, so Metz had to shop the “women’s” clothing area and cut the bottom of the pants off to not trip!
At age 25, Metz married her husband, John. After 20 years together and 7 children (6 biological, 1 adopted), Metz recalls that “I suppose I’m sort of the Cinderella story. John could see beyond the exterior, he loved my soul.”
But her weight loss journey began just 5 years ago, when Metz was 40-years old, and tipping the scale at 265 pounds. She discovered her passion for healthy living after a lifetime of obesity, low self esteem and summers involving swim parties, go carting and other things heavy people do not enjoy. Metz made an agreement with herself – to fight to get fit, and to keep it that way!
“It is not advisable to look for short cuts or quick fixes. There will be frustration as your body is a beautiful machine that records everything you do and adjusts accordingly. It takes time to see lasting change in your body and everyone’s ‘skinny’ or ‘fit’ is different according to your personal best,” Metz says.
Hardstyle KBJJ has become Metz’s home away from home. Zumba began Metz’s transformation along with almost every other group fitness class available. But it wasn’t until a Boot Camp class that she experienced a different level of fitness! Soon after Boot Camp, the instructor brought Kettlebell lifting to Corpus Christi. He invited Metz to try this particular style of lifting and fell in love with how efficient it was, it’s sculpting effects, and overall weight loss results.
One of Metz’s daughters painted on a solid black kettlebell that Metz had. It says “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” This quote, from Kathryn Stockett, The Help, urges and inspires Metz every day. Kettlebells have completely overhauled her body. Finally, in her mid-40s, Metz has more energy, spunk, and zest for life than ever before.
At the beginning of 2014, Metz dedicated herself to obtaining her SFG I certification. This was her “I made it” moment, and proof of her dedication, desire to help others, and evidence of her changed life. She became an assistant instructor at Hardstyle KBJJ in September 2014, training others in advancing a healthy living lifestyle. She stands tall, with her head high, shoulders back, grin wide, at more than 100 pounds lighter, stronger, happier, healthier, inspired and inspirING.
“I never thought I could get in shape and feel great. I am proud to say I did not try short cuts to my weight loss. I did not take one pill, shake, surgery or magic anything to arrive at the body I have today. To lose 100 lifetime burdening pounds, I had to fight every day by making exercise and nutrition a priority. Metz best advise it to make peace with your journey, move what you can when you can. Eat to live. Don’t live to eat. Breathe, Love, Dance, Swing!