Nicole Kelly had plans to get married in Hawaii, a perfect place for a destination wedding. She had already postponed the wedding twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic and was looking forward to finally having a vacation with her family and soon-to-be husband.
Until life changed in an instant.
On her dad’s 70th birthday – November 20, 2022 – something was off. Her father, Mike, wasn’t acting like himself, according to his family. Normally, he never misses Sunday church service and is always one of the first to show. Yet on that day, he didn’t get up from the couch even after repeated prompts from his wife. She shrugged it off, thinking he had just been caught up in birthday text messages.
Later, Mike decided he wanted to eat at a favorite restaurant in Hannibal, Missouri, with his family and friends. It’s about an hour away from their home in Keokuk, Iowa. During the drive, Mike continued to exhibit the same, unusual behaviors — forgetfulness, fatigue, disorientation and other symptoms.
By the time they arrived at the restaurant, his friends were concerned enough to take him to the emergency room in Hannibal. There, the doctors ran a CT scan and found a mass on his brain.
Mike was airlifted to MU Health Care’s University Hospital and admitted to the neuroscience ICU (NSICU).
After undergoing brain surgery to remove and test the mass, neurosurgeon Michael Chicoine, MD, and the surgery team determined it to be a tumor, glioblastoma — the most aggressive brain cancer.
Since his diagnosis, Mike has been in and out of the hospital. During his stay in late January, doctors discovered he had hydrocephalus, swelling in the brain, and blood clots in his legs and lungs.
It was during this time Nicole had planned, again, to get married. She pivoted away from her Hawaiian wedding to a small family gathering in Keokuk, but her dad wasn’t fit to travel home. Nicole had two options: cancel the wedding again or leave her father alone at the hospital.
That was when MU Health Care staff chaplain John Forsythe thought: Why not marry here?
“I knew we had a chapel, and I knew it would be available,” Chaplain Forsythe said. “I suggested that, if they were pressed, and they needed to have that moment, we could probably work it out somehow.”
To make the best wedding possible happen, and within the week, it would take a village. Chaplain Forsythe organized the effort to turn the chapel into a wedding space, recruiting Terry Hancox, Rafael Ortiz-Colin, Sonia Perkins and Chuck Wright from the environmental services team. Tonya Cozad and Jamey Heath, from engineering services, made sure all the lights and fixtures in the chapel were working for the big day.
As environmental services readied the chapel, the NSICU team readied Nicole’s father, wondering if he could physically attend his daughter’s wedding. At the time, he was scheduled for surgery on a Friday, and the wedding was the day after. He wouldn’t have nearly enough time to recover from a major brain surgery — unless the surgery’s timing changed.
“The surgery team was able to coordinate with the neurosurgeon and actually get the surgery a day or two before what was originally scheduled, just so he could attend the wedding,” physician assistant Taylor Johnson said.
Mike’s surgery was moved from Friday to Wednesday, and with no complications arising, it gave him enough time to recover and regain strength before the wedding on Saturday. To the delight of the NSICU staff, he was medically stable enough to attend. No beeping monitors, no tubes or ventilators — just him, his wheelchair and an IV stand.
Getting Mike ready to attend a wedding was a huge team effort, Johnson said. The nursing staff got him bathed and dressed appropriately, while other ICU personnel made sure Mike’s medications would keep him stable throughout. Despite everything, he was excited to watch his daughter walk down the aisle while wearing his Kelly Green tie — a family tradition.
It was fortunate everything went smoothly, said neurology fellow Rachael Steiner, MD. If Mike needed more time postop, or he hadn’t tapered off the right medication, this would have been a different story.
“That’s the hard thing with these critically ill patients — it’s not just the one thing, everything has to come together,” Steiner said.
Mike was doing well enough that after the ceremony, he didn’t return to the ICU. He transferred to the step-down unit, adding to an already joyous occasion.
Thanks to the dedication and perseverance of the MU Health Care staff involved, Nicole and Nathan Marti got married January 28. It certainly wasn’t a beachside wedding, but when Nicole saw her father enter the chapel doors, after expecting him to be bedridden — or worse — she knew she had the perfect wedding.
“The MU Health Care staff treated us with such respect and care as humans, and people, and a family going through a hard situation,” Nicole said. “It was about more than a medical diagnosis and treating a medical diagnosis — it was about seeing us through this really hard time.”
Everyone involved in making the wedding happen recently received a YES Moment, a hospital award, for their efforts February 24 and April 7. Nicole had no idea that more than 19 people helped put it all together, but is grateful to every single one of them, as they lifted a huge burden off her shoulders.
“As the bride with a sick father, I really didn’t feel the weight of all that work, and I think that speaks to the amazingness of everyone on the MU Health Care team,” Nicole said. “They just came together around us and did everything that needed to happen for us, without adding to the pressure that we were already under. It was the magic of the quiet goodness.”
For our employees, it was another way to take care of patients and their families.
“We’re here to help people and serve people in every way possible,” Johnson said. “Doing this just seemed like the right thing to do.”
The following people received a YES Moment for going above and beyond:
- Tonya Cozad and Jamey Heath (Engineering Services Dept.)
- Terry Hancox, Rafael Ortiz-Colin, Sonia Perkins, Chuck Wright (Environmental Services Dept.)
- Pam Dorman (Executive Support Administration Dept.)
- Abby Brunnert, Jessica Hoehne, Robert Campbell, Taylor Johnson, Kyndal Meers, Lauren Ocheltree, Rachael Steiner (Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit)
- Joseph Reinkemeyer (Safety and Security Administration Dept.)
- John Forsythe, Heather Morgan (Spiritual Care Dept.)
- Tammy Gillespie, Steve Kanagy (Volunteer Services Dept.)