Community comes together to celebrate Los Lunas teen fighting with pulmonary hypertension.
LOS LUNAS—Holding the aqua dress close to her body, Eliana Alderete, 16, twirled in circles in the living room of her Los Lunas home.
Eyes closed, lost in the moment of joy that was her upcoming Prom, Eliana was just any girl looking forward to a fancy party.
Her mother, Lyndsi Chavez, watches, smiling, then reminds Eliana to put on her oxygen cannula.
At 6 months old, the School of Dreams Academy student was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. The condition causes high blood pressure in the lungs, which constricts the pulmonary artery and all the vessels in the lungs.
Because her lungs are so constricted, the right side of Eliana’s heart has a harder time pushing big volumes of blood into the vessels, which caused it to become enlarged and it now works overtime to get blood to the lungs to get oxygenated.
After her diagnosis, Eliana wasn’t expected to make it to her first birthday; the average lifespan for someone with PH is about five years.
“It’s more common in adults because there’s usually an underlying issue,” Lyndsi said. “Children are born with it and the cause is unknown. It’s very rare in children; there are only three or four in New Mexico.”
After beating the odds for so many years, turning 16 in July became all that more of a milestone for Eliana and her family.
“I knew this year we needed to do something,” her mother said. “So, I just did a quick post on Facebook asking about a venue.”
The idea was to throw a bash that celebrated Eliana’s Sweet 16 and gave her the Prom she missed.
“By the end of the day, everything was pretty much taken care of. People were saying, ‘I’ll do this and I’ll take care of that,’” Lyndsi said.
And just like that, Saturday night was the night. The event was a go and Eliana, wearing silver glitter-covered sneakers and adorned with an ear-to-ear grin, was the center of attention.
To make the event happen, Jan Razban at Dance With Me Dance Studio provided the space, Jonathan Chavez was the DJ, Christen Wroten set up a photo booth and Shae Prieskorn took photos of the evening.
Regina Berry styled Eliana’s hair and makeup and Rachel Storr with Cactus Rose did her nails. Dianne Chavez, donated all the drinks, the School of Dreams Academy provided the tables and chairs, and Eliana’s aunt, Adrianna Derrick, bought her dress.
The family has always been very public about Eliana’s illness, Lyndsi said, and in turn the support has poured in.
“People are so inspired by her positive outlook,” the proud mother said.
The party was a surprise her parents kept under wraps for two months — two months too long, Eliana says. During a visit to her aunt’s house, she was given a gift bag. Inside, nestled in tissue, was an invitation to a “Masquerade Phenomenal Prom for Eliana.”
Overcome with emotion, Eliana covered her face and sobbed with joy.
Eliana Alderete’s special night was full of family and friends, including her baby cousin, Kamryn Jo, who is her “birthday twin.”
While the anticipation of having her hair and nails done for the event was evident, Eliana’s strength and positive outlook come from her daily faith.
“My faith is really strong. We’re a very religious family; we have faith in God, which helps us as a family. It’s our glue,” she said.
When things are bad and it’s hard to breath and fatigue sets in, she remembers one thing — God numbers our days, not man.
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. My PH limits me but with God there are no limits to what I can do, no matter what I’m going through,” Eliana said. “I try to have as much fun as I can. You have to cherish life for what it is, not take anything for granted.
“I’m so grateful to get this opportunity, and to have family and friends who want to do this for me.”
The family is grateful and blessed by the outpouring of support for Eliana, her mother said.
“It’s overwhelming that this many people love and are concerned about her and us as a family,” Lyndsi said.
Every day at his barber shop, Eliana’s father, Jake Alderete, is reminded of how many good people there are in his community.
“It’s unreal; customers at the shop ask about her all the time. I bet we don’t know the half of them who care and pray for her,” Jake said. “You hear so much bad stuff but it’s encouraging to see an outpouring of good hearted people.
“People intentionally caring for someone they don’t even know. Be intentional. We need to remember how to live life.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.