Bride-to-be Iris Vasquez arrived at Hartford Hospital under heartbreaking circumstances but left a married woman elated by the caring team of hospital employees who made her family’s dream a reality.
Vasquez, 67, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a life-threatening lung condition that has made it increasingly difficult for her to breathe. Vasquez said she’d been in and out of Hartford Hospital over the years but had received hospice care more recently. Unexpectedly, she landed in the hospital June 9 — roughly two weeks before she planned to marry longtime companion Daniel Flores in a ceremony at Hartford’s City Hall.
Family members worried Vasquez’s battle with COPD had reached its end and that she’d be unable to marry the man she first met 22 years ago the day after spotting him in a cousin’s photo album.
“This was the worst they had seen her, it was so scary,” said daughter-in-law Jessica Oliver, who returned to Hartford Hospital last week with Vasquez and her son, Ruben Vargas, all of them radiant as they showed off cell phone photos while describing the June 12 wedding fairytale that unfolded quickly in Bliss 11 East.
It wasn’t long after Vasquez was admitted to the hospital that staff learned about the planned City Hall nuptials, with a worried Vargas dreaming whether an improvised wedding service here was possible.
“We just wanted to see her get married,” he said.
Brittany Laurenza, RN, ran the idea by unit leadership. Soon after, a team effort was underway to give Vasquez and her family, some of whom traveled from Florida and Puerto Rico to say their goodbyes, a day for which they could be thankful.
“She did a great job of helping to get everyone moving,” said Nurse Manager Eileen Leahy. “All of the sudden, we had a wedding on our hands.”
Vasquez’s sister, Gloria, secured someone from a family church to officiate the ceremony inside Vasquez’s room. The hospital’s Food & Nutrition department prepared a cake. Staff helped Vasquez with her dress as a bowtie-clad Flores, who she affectionately refers to as “green eyes,” kept to tradition and stayed away until he got his cue.
Naturally, buzz about the wedding grew during its tidy 36-hour production time. Staff from the respiratory, intensive care and physical therapy departments made their way to Vasquez’s room. As someone piped a traditional wedding march through the intercom system, families of other patients who also knew about the wedding joined a small crowd outside the room packed with close friends and family.
“There was an excellent effort by the respiratory team to keep Iris standing when he walked in,” said Dr. Michael Perkins, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care attending at Hartford Hospital.
Flores leaned into his wife and told her, “I love you. You’re the love of my life, and I can’t live without you.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye on the floor,” Perkins said.
Oliver and Vargas say they remain overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and care their family received here.
“I think everyone was just so touched by this long relationship between the two of them, and all of this family support they had,” Leahy said. “Love was just emanating from this couple.”
Vasquez’s condition soon improved and she was discharged a few days after tying the knot. Her son, Vargas, attributes his mother’s recovery to what he calls the “miracle” union made in Bliss.
“It brought life to her,” said Vargas, flashing a wide grin.
Perkins said he saw Flores at Hartford Hospital not long after the wedding and was touched that Flores remembered him as he extended his gratitude for everything the staff did for his wife.
“The wedding was beautiful, something I won’t forget,” Perkins said. “It illustrates the passion our hospital has for helping people, partnering with patients and families to navigate life’s most difficult, emotional moments.”
Flores and Vasquez celebrated with friends and family at a party on June 22, their original wedding date.
Vasquez, who kept her maiden name, continues her fight with COPD — and she’ll do it with the continued support of the man she can now call her husband.
“Oh my god, I’m so grateful for what everyone did for me,” she said.
For more information on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary medicine at Hartford Hospital, click here.