Some of Jacky Cortes's most poignant childhood memories growing up in Mission Hill include frantic trips to Children's Hospital Boston.
All too frequently, her mother, Maria, would come home from work and rush Cortes, coughing and wheezing from an asthma flare-up, to Children's Emergency Department. Cortes remembers how the crying children and the sights and sounds of medical equipment frightened her. "The nebulizer treatments were scary," Cortes says of the medical device that emits a fine mist that a child inhales to help open the airways. "But the nurses always stood out. I remember their smiles and how they talked me through my breathing."
It was then that Cortes first had the dream of becoming a pediatric nurse to help children and their families manage asthma and other pulmonary diseases. Her dream came true in 1994, when she graduated from Boston College with a degree in Nursing and soon after joined Children's as one of the hospital's few Latina RNs.
Cortes has worked as a nurse here ever since, first on the school-age medical floor and today in the Pulmonary Clinic, where she cares for patients suffering from asthma, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases. "Now, I see myself when I see my patients, because I was one of them. I remember how it felt to have trouble breathing, and I say to myself, ĺ─˛I'm going to get these children better.'"
While Cortes can put smiles on children's faces with ease, her road to Children's was anything but easy.
Growing up in the housing projects of Mission Hill during the crime-ridden 1980s, Cortes and her family were exposed to gangs, violence and illegal drugs on a daily basis. She attributes the fact that she didn't get involved in those things to her parents, Ramon and Maria, both of whom are of Puerto Rican descent. "Their discipline and dedication brought us to where we are today," Cortes says of herself and her siblings. "They taught us to make the right choices and showed us what could happen if we headed in the wrong direction."
Despite how tired her parents were when they got home from work, their children's academics and health always came first. Ramon and Maria always made time to help them with their homework and, of course, to take young Cortes to Children's whenever necessary. Since her asthma made playing sports difficult, Cortes spent long hours reading books at the library instead, and she remembers being frequently teased by the neighborhood kids for her studious habits.
"There was a lot of negativity. People looked at my family and would say, ĺ─˛Those kids will be lucky if they make it out of high school, let alone college,'" she recalls. "The more I heard it, the harder I pushed myself—not to prove it to them, but to prove it to myself," she says. "I didn't want to be a statistic."
Instead of becoming a statistic, Cortes has become a role model—to her 2-year-old daughter, Jayline, to patients with asthma and their families, and to the local Latino community. "Never give up on what you want in life," she says. "If there's something nobody can take away from you, it's your faith in yourself. Hold onto that, and you'll be amazed how far you'll go."