Patient gets wish – wedding in her hospital room

When she was told she was getting near the end of her life, Anna Gonzales asked for one last wish – to marry her fiancé Justin Middleton. Today, IU Health staff members in Palliative Care and Medical ICU made the wish come true.

Just one day before her nuptials, Anna Gonzales’ voice was weak. But her determination was strong. She wanted to get out of her hospital bed and sit at the side of her fiancé Justin Middleton, as they exchanged wedding vows.

It was a major task for the 30-year-old woman who struggles to breathe.

Diagnosed in infancy with cystic fibrosis, Gonzales has been hospitalized numerous times throughout her life. The most recent stay brought her to IU Health on June 2 where she is in the care of Dr. Cynthia Brown. And when she said she wanted to marry the man she fell in love with over Thanksgiving dinner, a sea of caregivers swarmed around her to make the wish a reality.

In a hospital room on the Medical Intensive Care Unit, Gonzales’ nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers and physical therapists bustled with precision – hanging crepe paper flowers, setting out battery-operated candles, and arranging bouquets of artificial flowers. They dressed Gonzales in a champagne gown with brocade lace, and added a gold tiara with a matching veil to frame her face. The attire was lovingly stitched together by nurse Ruth Miller, a case manager.

“This is not about me; it’s about helping the people we love,” said Miller. Another nurse gave Gonzales a manicure – painting her nails her favorite color – purple. “Anna has wanted to get married for some time and on this admission we decided it was time to make it happen,” said nurse Meredith Kille, Gonzales’ case manager.

“This is the second time we’ve had a wedding of a patient like this,” said Dr. Brown. “It feels so special whenever someone is so ill and you can give them something so important and focus on the whole person. There are times you can’t make the disease better but you can ask, ‘what is important to you right now?”

As Gonzales’ brother Santiago Gonzales stood by her side, Middleton walked into the hospital room beaming at his bride. Behind him a hallway was packed full of other caregivers.

“Welcome to the wedding celebration of Anna and Justin,” said chaplain Staci Striegel-Stikeleather. “Today we celebrate the unconditional love they have for each other. It is an honor to be standing up here today as these two people become united in their commitment to each other. This love is far more reaching than any circumstance, illness, or space in time. This may be an unconventional place for a wedding but it is often in the chaos of life where beauty emerges and blessings and joys catch us by a wonderful surprise,” said Striegel-Stickeleather.

As the couple recited their vows and exchanged rings, Gonzales whispered that she didn’t think her fiancé had time to get her a ring.

Her nieces, Amillia and Sophia Gonzales, presented a small bag. When Middleton reached into the bag and pulled out a silver ring with a purple gemstone, Gonzales giggled excitedly. Others in the room wiped away tears.

“I work in Elkhart and when they told me I needed to get here and that she was at the end of life, I came with very little,” said Middleton. “I’ve never looked at a person’s health. I’ve always looked at who they are. We all have our challenges, our downsides. I wanted to make this happen for Anna. Once the date was set, I snuck into the hospital gift shop and bought the ring.”

Music therapist Adam Perry played soft piano music as Striegel-Stickeleather introduced “Mr. and Mrs. Middleton.”

Social workers Sarah Hale and Libby King who helped coordinate wedding colors, refreshments and flowers handed the couple two goblets filled with apple juice. Caregivers streamed into the room one by one to offer congratulations and enjoy a slice of wedding cake.

The new Mrs. Middleton beamed as she announced: “Today I got to marry my best friend.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email