by Moira Cullings
SHAWNEE — Olivia Lopez has a bright future ahead of her.
A member of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, Lopez is thriving in her freshman year at Bishop Miege High School in Roe- land Park.
But the journey has been an uphill battle.
Lopez was recently nominated for the Congress of Future Medical Leaders, a program for high school students interested in entering the medical field.
She will have the opportunity to learn from medical professionals, interact with other top students from around the country and gain early skills to aid her career path.
Lopez hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, a doctor specializing in surgical procedures of the heart, lungs and other organs in the chest.
She’s been influenced by the cardiologists and patients she’s met through her mother Laura, who is the executive director for the Kansas City chapter of the American Heart Association.
A recent experience Lopez had with her own health solidified her interest in pursuing a medical profession.
In November 2020, Lopez got COVID-19.
“I didn’t really have it that bad,” she said. “But later, as I was starting to go back to school and volleyball practice, I started having long-haul symptoms.
“I had a lot of fatigue, and I was sleeping for about 16 hours a day. I would fall asleep in class.”
Then, Lopez thought she was starting to improve when she began developing chest pains.
“I was constantly out of breath,” she said. “It hurt to breathe.”
Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong until Lopez began to experience repeated fainting episodes — and they discovered she had Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and functional neurological disorder.
“That’s when I got in the wheelchair,” she said.
The leg tremors and fainting episodes forced Lopez to rely on it. Her parents carried her upstairs at night since she couldn’t walk on her own.
“While I was sick, I wasn’t really close to God at all,” she said. “I was depressed. It was really hard mentally.”
For Laura, watching her daughter suffer was heartbreaking.
“You have a kid that was a healthy, super bright, athletic kid with everything going for them,” she said. “And then their whole world gets completely rocked.”
It wasn’t until an archdiocesan priest visited the family’s home on Holy Thursday of 2021 that Lopez began to lean completely on God for help.
“[The priest] prayed with her for a very long time,” said Laura, “and then encouraged her to try and get up and walk.”
Olivia was making some progress — the prayers were slowly being answered — but the priest pressed on further.
“He said, ‘Let’s go pray some more,’” recalled Laura. ‘“Let’s ask God for more help.’
“She came back in [the room], and they sat down and prayed more — for hours — and asked God and Jesus and the Blessed Mother to intervene for her.”
Eventually, Lopez got up and walked with no trouble, said Laura.
She hasn’t used her wheelchair since.
“I think the more we prayed, the more my faith started to develop,” said Lopez.
“While we were praying, it was like this gushing wind around my body,” she continued. “The more we prayed, the stronger the wind felt.
“It was like joy was just coming back inside of me and a hole was being filled.”
Lopez recovered both her faith and her health that day.
And the experience gave her a new perspective on life.
She was able to return to playing volleyball and plans to join the lacrosse team. She’s more eager than ever to pursue a medical career.
“I feel like as I was in the hospital,” she said, “I really discovered how much hope all the patients need.
“If they had that source of hope and faith that everything will be OK, then things would be a lot better.”
Lopez’s family was also moved to make faith a priority.
“It has really created so much change in all of our lives for the better,” said Laura.
As she looks back, she believes her daughter’s suffering was not for nothing.
“I think there was a reason God put her through this,” said Laura. “There was a reason why he also healed her.
“She has a purpose in this life, and her faith is something that is so strong and beautiful to witness.”