How a Traumatizing Birthday 3 Years Ago Inspires Joy for Today

Jen Cueva avatar

by Jen Cueva |

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Growing up, Moma would bring Halloween-themed treats to my class on my birthday. Pumpkin-themed goodies and plastic spider rings were among the items she included in each bag. Hyperactive kids bounced around, filling up on all of those sugary gifts. Watching others being happy has always filled my heart.

Happy birthday to me

Today is my birthday, and amid the chaos of 2020, I am grateful to celebrate another year. Not all of my birthdays can be described as happy. Despite that, I continue to celebrate.

Living with pulmonary hypertension (PH), I have had several close calls — not exactly a rarity for those with chronic illnesses. Tomorrow is never promised, not even to the healthiest among us. One of my most traumatic hospitalizations three years ago confirmed that truth to me.

Doctors had discharged me from a hospitalization to have a low-key birthday celebration at home the next evening. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived.

The kiddos came over to grub on pizza and wings, and cake likely was involved, too. Then, I broke.

Traumatizing memories are difficult to digest

My mind feels a bit distorted when I try to recall the details of the next few hours, such as the pounding of my heart, the vibrations that radiated from my chest up to my neck, the way I gasped for air, wondering if each moment would be my last.

Soon I ended up in a local emergency room, where I stayed for several days. After my husband, Manny, made calls to advocate for me, I was transferred to the Texas Medical Center.

Due to chronic kidney disease, I experience a rare PH phenomenon called hyponatremia, an abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood, which caused this hospitalization and many others. It even landed me in the intensive care unit several times. Reversing hyponatremia can be problematic and trigger complications that linger and cause lasting damage.

A near-death experience

Texas Medical Center was my home for a few weeks. Strangely, I only recall brief moments from that period, such as the Houston Astros winning the World Series (at the time, I was in love with Astros second baseman José Altuve), and my family wheeling me to the serenity garden to bask in the sunshine.

Jen’s daughter, Kayla, makes her Mom smile during the scariest of days in the hospital. (Courtesy of Jen Cueva)

I was there … but not there. It felt like I was looking down from above. My son-in-love reminded me that I talked about “the light” while looking up — signs of a classic near-death experience.

It’s weird how the mind protects itself by blocking traumatic memories. Sometimes, though, certain words, sounds, or songs slip through those defenses, jarring my memory a bit.

Thank God for answered prayers

I can’t imagine how horrific these weeks were for my family. After leaving the hospital, I still had a long, tough recovery ahead.

Doctors wanted to send home healthcare, including physical and occupational therapy, but I asked for a little time to find my routine first. Years of working with Alzheimer’s patients taught me that routine is critical. Still, my amazing husband had to remind me to brush my teeth — and tell me how. After a bath, he dried me off, and when I went to get my pajamas, I sat on a stool at the end of my bed in only my underwear, lost about what to do next.

Also wearing a smile, Jen’s husband, Manny, brings her Halloween goodies, like her Moma used to do. (Courtesy of Jen Cueva)

This scared the hell out of me, y’all. Because of my nursing background, I freaked out upon realizing I couldn’t even care for myself. I never want to be dependent on my family, which is why I had advance directives in place. Tears streamed down my face as I noticed the panic in my husband’s eyes. Our daughter came in to check on things and reminded us that we would get through this together. Inside, I was dying. At that moment, I prayed to God to either take me or help me through this.

Y’all know what? God answered my prayers. Slowly, I started rediscovering myself. Those days were challenging, but I made slow progress. A few days later, I cooked a meal with supervision.

Now we enjoy the tiniest victories

A roller coaster of emotions filled those weeks — not only for me but for my family, too. Words cannot describe it all. It almost seems like a dream, or more like a nightmare. But we survived. Together we survived, and now we thrive. Because of that, we are stronger. Sometimes I talk about these dark days with my family, but we all prefer to block them out. That’s trauma.

These weeks were full of heartache, grief, agony, and so much more. But most of all, they were full of hope, love, and prayers. During my follow-up appointment, my PH doctor was in tears as she hugged me and called me a miracle.

I prefer to celebrate every little victory instead of mourning lost times. This birthday, I celebrate while reminding myself of how I overcame my struggles. Don’t let another birthday pass you by without much thought. Celebrate each of your tiniest victories.


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Manny Cueva avatar

Manny Cueva

I have put off reading this because it brings back a traumatic experience that is to this day hard to remove from the mind. I talked to God more in this period then ever before, praying to not take the woman that is the other half of my heart. As I looked into her eyes I knew she was in there trying to break free from the clutches of what was occurring right before are eyes. There is not a day that goes by that I thank God for blessing us with her presence for without her I would perish emotionally and physically,

Jen Cueva avatar

Jen Cueva

Hey Boo,
Yes, this certainly was traumatic for us all. God does answer prayers when we think he is not listening. He blessed me with you and for that, I am forever grateful. Together, we got this!

Yep, this column took a lot out of me to write.


Tracey avatar


Jen thanks for sharing that. I admire your faith and the love you and Manny have together. Tracey


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