Not many people get married four days after a proposal. But for me, being married was the one thing I thought would comfort me as I headed into a high-risk heart surgery. So, I proposed.
Born with Tetralogy of Fallot
You see, I was born with tetralogy of Fallot 37 years ago. I had my first open-heart surgery when I was 18 months old and again when I was 4. I went back for checkups periodically after that, and then stopped going to follow-up appointments somewhere along the way. It wasn’t until I was 20 and pregnant with my first son that I realized I should be seeing a cardiologist trained in congenital heart disease. I soon saw a couple of cardiologists in another city and eventually after that, had a valve replacement.
In 2018, I started feeling miserable and my cardiologists couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was swelling up like a balloon. Eventually I found my way to Cincinnati Children’s and they discovered that I was in heart failure, or severe right ventricular dysfunction. I needed treatment immediately, so they scheduled me for a transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement five days later.
The procedure was risky, but necessary. I have scoliosis and restrictive lung disease, which increased the potential need for ECMO afterwards. My doctor explained that there was no guarantee I would be able to come off ECMO following the procedure. There was also a small possibility that I wouldn’t survive. He assured me that there would be an entire team made up of many different specialties ready help if the need arose.
At this point, I was pretty nervous. A chaplain named Cindy came into my room to check on me. She wondered if there was anything she could do to help put my mind at ease. I thought about it long and hard. My boyfriend, Gerald and I, had been together for 16 years and had four kids. I decided that I’d like to get married. If I didn’t make it
through surgery, at least our union would be official. She said she could make it happen, so long as I would handle the most important part, asking Gerald. He said yes.
Planning a Wedding
We went from a simple ceremony to planning a full-on wedding and reception within days. It was an exciting whirlwind. So many staff got involved and they were able to get everything donated – in a matter of days, no less. Bon Bonerie donated the cake; a doctor donated her own wedding dress; Ft. Thomas Florist donated the flowers; Ashley Mauro donated the photography; Maria Grammas did my hair; a nurse did my makeup; and my mother-in-law brought the food.
But most importantly, the wedding planning kept me from thinking about my impending surgery.
My wedding day was better than anything I could have planned. I started getting ready around 2:00 p.m. One of my nurses helped me get dressed and even allowed me to take a break from all of my equipment and wires for the ceremony and reception. (We took some oxygen with us, just in case!)
I carried on the wedding tradition of wearing something old (pearl earrings and bracelet), something new (shoes), something borrowed (the dress) and something blue (necklace).
We left the “bridal suite” at 6:20 p.m. and I traveled down the hall to the ceremony in the chapel via decorated wheelchair.
The ceremony began at 6:30 p.m. with everyone important to me in attendance, including my kids and close family members. My father walked me down the aisle. Cindy wrote something for my older children to say. Our younger boys were ring bearers. It was perfection.
Surgery and beyond
Two days later, I was being wheeled down the hall – this time for surgery, as a married woman. My husband kept telling me that everything would be okay. I woke up soon after – about four hours later – and hugged everyone in the room. I was just so happy that everything worked out the way we had hoped. My pulmonary valve was now functioning properly, which allowed my heart to shrink in size and resolve the swelling issues.
It’s now been nearly four months since my procedure and I am recovering well. I’ve been able to stay out of the hospital, where previously I was hospitalized frequently for heart failure and low oxygen saturations. Because of this, Gerald and I have our sights set on taking a honeymoon. Once I’m off oxygen, we’re thinking about heading somewhere warm. We have lots to celebrate as an officially married couple!