ICU staff makes wedding wish come true for couple

(StatesmanJournal.com) Cindy Henderson woke up early on her wedding day, barely able to catch her breath.

The next thing she knew, she was being rushed by ambulance to Salem Hospital, where she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.

Instead of getting her hair and makeup done and preparing to walk down the aisle to marry Mark Welty, she spent the day fighting for her life.

As wedding guests from out of state made plans to return home, Mark sought advice on how to put together an advanced medical directive for Cindy.

When she regained consciousness, he asked her to write down on paper what her wishes were. One of the first things Cindy wrote was: “I want to get married.”

Mark was more than willing, but there was that little matter about his bride being a patient in the ICU, where visitors are limited and flowers are not allowed.

The ICU staff got wind of Cindy’s wishes and before the couple knew it, they were surrounded by a team of volunteer wedding planners.

A conference room on the seventh floor of Building A, where the ICU is located, was available. Someone from the environmental services department at the hospital measured the door frame to make sure Cindy’s bed would squeeze through. She wound up being brought in on a more easily adjustable cardiac chair.

The location hardly compared with Fishermen’s Bend Recreation Site near Mill City, where they had reservations for their September wedding. They chose that site because of the picturesque views of the North Santiam River and invited more than 150 people.

“She always wanted to get married outdoors,” Mark said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

The seventh floor of Building A, I’m told, does offer a 180-degree view of the Salem hills.

“Really, it’s as close as you can come to being outside in the hospital,” said Dr. Nancy Boutin, medical director of the Salem Cancer Institute, Cindy’s doctor and a wedding guest.

Julia Cusick, environmental services assistant, made decorations, including Styrofoam cup bells and snowflake flower garlands.

Friends from Salem Alliance Church, where Cindy and Mark attend, took care of other arrangements. One picked up the cake, white with strawberry filling and white frosting. Another brought flowers from her own garden for Cindy’s bouquet.

Bowls of pastel mints and mixed nuts, and bottles of sparkling cider, were brought in for the guests.

“It was so touching because so many people worked to pull this wedding together for them,” said Loie Sannes, a friend who attended.

It couldn’t have happened without people like RN staff nurse Stacey Schmid, certified unit assistant Connie Jackson, and the rest of the ICU team. They are the ones who made sure Cindy was well enough to get married.

In all the hustle and bustle to make the wedding happen, Jackson said they sometimes forgot where they were.

“It was kind of surreal,” Jackson said. “I had to remind myself, ‘Oh, that’s right, I’m at work. I have to do other things. I can’t just play.’ ”

Cindy was still intubated when plans were being made — a tube was inserted in her airway, and a ventilator assisted her breathing. Nurses weren’t sure she could breathe on her own, but Cindy agreed to give it a try.

Dr. Jim Parosa, pulmonary medicine, removed the tube around 2 p.m., about an hour before the ceremony. The ICU team was by her side at all times, prepared to re-intubate needed. Respiratory care supervisor Mark Schrunk was standing by just in case.

Pastor Dallas Yetter of Open Gate Church of the Nazarene in Keizer, where Mark once attended, officiated at the Sept. 16 ceremony, which took place the day after Cindy was admitted to ICU.

Instead of walking down the aisle she was wheeled down a hallway and into an elevator.

Cindy naturally was disappointed she didn’t get to wear the dress she had picked out, a strapless black number that gathers in the front and hangs just below her knees.

“It was a sexy dress,” she said.

She had no choice but to settle for a drab hospital gown.

“It was blue and definitely something borrowed,” Dr. Boutin said.

“And it was old,” Jackson added.

Mark had already turned in his white tux and blue shirt to Men’s Wearhouse, so he went home to grab his best sport coat. He wore a Hawaiian print shirt underneath.

Cindy was still hooked up to oxygen when they said their vows in front of 24 guests, including hospital personnel. When they exchanged rings, Mark was only able to place hers on the tip of her finger because her hands were swollen.

Among the music planned for their wedding was the song “Cross My Heart” by George Strait. Someone in the hospital downloaded it on their smartphone, and Cindy and Mark sang the words softly to each other. Mark said it was the only time he really choked up during the ceremony.

When it came time for cake, Cindy went first and shoved a piece in Mark’s face.

“Can I do it back?” Mark asked the nurses, and of course he knew the answer. He did get permission to give Cindy a tiny taste of the frosting.

“With all the hard stuff,” Mark said, “there was a little levity and fun.”

This was actually the second time their wedding had been postponed because of Cindy’s health. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2008, just a couple months before they had planned to get married the first time. Cindy went through chemo and radiation treatments and five surgeries, including a mastectomy and reconstruction.

“It was really wonderful to have seen Mark stand by her through her whole process, from back then to now,” Dr. Boutin said.

Cindy returned to ICU not long after the ceremony. She was transferred the next day to the oncology unit, because her cancer is back. She has tumors in her airways, which created the breathing problems that landed her in the hospital.

She was released three days after the wedding and immediately began radiation treatment. Their honeymoon to Seaside has been put on indefinite hold.

Cindy is now on a chemo regimen — just pills for now — and they are busy merging households. She moved from her apartment into Mark’s house in northeast Salem. During my recent visit with them I asked to see her ring, which she happily discovered now fits perfectly.

Mark is expecting a refund from Fishermen’s Bend, and he and Cindy have talked about the possibility of having an anniversary celebration there a year from now.

I’m guessing they might invite members of the ICU staff, as a way to thank them for making a day happen that they never thought would, and for making it a special day that they will never forget.

“They rallied to our wishes and desires,” Mark said. “It was amazing.”

What they don’t know is that being a part of their special day might have meant just as much to the ICU staff.

“They do amazing things to make life and death better for their patients every single day,” Dr. Boutin said. “This is a happier one for them.”

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