MILTON KEYNES, England (Reuters) – British couple Elizabeth Kerr and Simon O’Brien had been planning to marry in June. Then COVID-19 struck.
Both contracted the disease and were rushed to Milton Keynes University Hospital in the same ambulance when their oxygen levels fell dangerously low.
Kerr and O’Brien became so ill that medical staff scrambled to organize a wedding before it was too late. When O’Brien’s condition got even worse, it was decided he should be transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU).
Even that did not stop them: staff delayed his intubation just long enough for them to tie the knot.
“They told me that we wouldn’t be able to get married after all, because they were going to have to intubate Simon and put him under,” Kerr recalled.
“But they held off for another hour. And he just, just rallied in that time, just long enough for us to get married.”
With mortality rates now as high as 80% in the ICU, a happy ending was far from certain.
But O’Brien’s condition improved and the newlyweds reunited on a COVID-19 ward where both are gradually recovering, although still receiving oxygen.
“We had to wait a few days for our first kiss,” Kerr told Reuters.
When Kerr, 31, and O’Brien, 36, arrived at the hospital in southern England, both needed a CPAP machine to breathe. They were placed on separate wards for COVID-19 patients.
Kerr, a nurse at nearby Buckingham hospital, had told medics the couple planned to wed in June, but with their condition deteriorating, nurse Hannah Cannon asked her if they wanted to marry in the hospital.
Kerr recalled she was told it could be her only chance.
Squeezing her husband’s arm and welling up with tears as she recalled the events, she said: “Those are words I never ever want to hear again.”
As staff across the hospital rushed to secure a wedding licence, O’Brien’s health worsened and doctors decided to move him to the ICU, reserved for the sickest patients, where he could receive mechanical ventilation.
They waited to intubate him long enough for the ceremony, which took place at 5.30 p.m. (1730 GMT) on Jan. 12, three days after the couple arrived in hospital.
Cannon was a witness and filmed the marriage for the couple’s family and friends. The catering department provided the cake.
“With lots of teamwork … we were able to give them a wedding, not necessarily the wedding that they would have initially intended, but certainly something positive, remarkable and memorable for them to really hold on to,” Cannon said.
Moments after saying “I do”, O’Brien was sedated and spent the night on mechanical ventilation.
Sitting next to each other and clutching hands after his partial recovery, the couple believe their survival was down to the staff’s quick thinking.
Kerr said the terrifying experience of fighting for every breath made clear what was important: the people you love.
“That is everything that matters, everything” she said. “Absolutely,” O’Brien agreed, speaking through his oxygen mask.
Kerr added: “If we hadn’t had each other and we hadn’t been given that opportunity to get married, I don’t think both of us would be here now.”
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Mike Collett-White)