In Sickness and In Health

 

By: Michelle Brubaker   |   October 26, 2016

Standing in the hallway, the bride’s eyes fill with tears thinking about her wedding day.

She’s about to walk down the aisle to marry her long-time boyfriend and the father of her children. The room where the vows will take place is filled with flowers. There is a custom-baked cake.

The wedding march “Here Comes the Bride” is cued up. Anxious family members and friends stand waiting.

And in that moment, in the stillness of anticipation, the groom’s monitor beeps. It’s an audible reminder that this will not be a traditional ceremony.

“This is not how I planned our wedding, but we are determined to make it special anyways,” said the bride, Ana, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Instead of a church, the couple is getting married in a room at Thornton Hospital at UC San Diego Health. Instead of a white dress and a tuxedo, the bride is wearing black and the groom is wearing blue surgical scrubs and remains seated in a wheelchair.

Stanley Proheartdth, 48-years-old, has colon cancer. It has metastasized. It is terminal.  

Ana and Stanley, an Army and Navy veteran, have been a couple for nearly nine years.

“We have been planning this day off and on for a long time,” said Stanley. “I’m feeling very emotional today…and very tired.”

After being together for nearly nine years, Stanley and Ana were getting married surrounded by their family and friends. But instead of a chapel, a white wedding dress and a tuxedo, the couple was saying their “I Do’s” in a room at Thornton Hospital.

A wedding in 24 hours

“Stanley is very sick. After hearing the couple’s wish to get married, I knew I had to make it happen for them,” said Anne Hassidim, transition nurse specialist at UC San Diego Health.

Hassidim worked closely with UC San Diego Health’s patient experience team to plan the logistics of the wedding with personal touches, such as a bouquet, food platters, gifts and music.

“This is the first time I have helped coordinate a wedding in the hospital,” said Lisa Ferrez-Wright, guest relations liaison at UC San Diego Health. “Today is both sad and beautiful. It’s a testament to true love.”

When Ana realizes she forgot the shirt she wants Stanley to wear, she becomes upset. Ferrez-Wright immediately springs into action, borrowing a co-worker’s suit jacket and pinning a rose boutonniere to the pocket.

“I would have driven to the mall if I had to,” said Ferrez-Wright.

Staff members from patient relations, care coordination, nursing, chaplain services, pharmacy, transport and more were involved in the planning and logistics.

“This is why I love my job,” said Megan Clowar, registered nurse at UC San Diego Health, who helps wheel the groom from his hospital room into the makeshift chapel. She stays by Stanley’s side, observing his vital signs closely during the ceremony and silencing the occasional beep from the monitor.

Eric Mattei, a graphics designer in the UC San Diego Health Marketing and Communications Department, handcrafted personalized wedding announcements while another member of the public relations team served as photographer and videographer.

“It is an honor to capture these very personal moments that will be a part of the Proheartdth family memories forever,” said Yadira Galindo, communications and media relations manager at UC San Diego Health.

Just after 2:30 p.m., it’s time for Ana to walk down the aisle, escorted by her brother and two sons.

Waiting for her at the other end of the room is Stanley. A camouflage scarf wrapped around his head, and the pole holding his IV bag, dispensing pain medications every 10 minutes, draped in a white sheet, another kind of cover-up.

As Ana reaches Stanley, she leans down, their foreheads touch, their eyes close and the room becomes utterly still. Everyone can feel the enormity of the moment. Ana and Stanley are speaking to each other without words.

After a pause, Ana says, shakily, “I love you baby. I want you to know you’ll always be with me.” 

These words strike a chord in the room, bringing tears to the eyes of all the wedding guests, as even the youngest of the children try to keep composed.

“I love you too,” replies Stanley, whispering back into her ear.

Gordon Debever, chaplain at UC San Diego Health, addresses the couple with kind words and a gentle spirit.

“The most important thing in the world is the relationships we build,” said Debever. “Marriage is an important decision motivated by love.”

After the “I Do’s,” the blessing and exchange of wedding bands and a kiss, Ana and Stanley Proheartdth are officially married. Everyone cheers.

“I noticed his heart rate went up a few times during that ceremony,” said Clowar, smiling.

Their song, “Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers, starts playing.

“Stanley introduced me to this song on his iPod many years ago,” said Ana, as she wipes tears away from Stanley’s thin face with a handkerchief. “We always think of each other when we hear it.”

As the song ends, the couple’s children bring them a rose. The family embraces.

Then comes a toast with apple cider and celebratory words from family, friends and UC San Diego Health staff.

“Thank you so much to everyone for making this happen,” said Ana. “You are all amazing – salud.”

As a wedding gift, nurse Hassidim presents Stanley with a quilt made by volunteer services. It’s a new family keepsake that she kindly places on Stanley’s lap to keep him warm.

“Usually my job requires me to be practical, but I treasure the times where I can help share a personal connection with my patients and create meaningful moments,” said Hassidim.

As family members say their good-byes to the couple after the ceremony, Stanley’s eyes fill with tears and his expression becomes somber, yet grateful. His tomorrow offers no guarantees, but he is able to share this day with those he cherishes most. 

There is no first dance or bouquet toss. Ana and Stanley spent their first day as a married couple in a hospital room, not on a honeymoon.  But they are together. In sickness and in health.

One week after the wedding, Stanley passed away at home surrounded by his wife and their children. We extend our sincerest condolences to Ana and their family.



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