Couple exchanges vows at Elkhart General

Noel Hernandez and Sarina Mejia were set to be married on Sunday, surrounded by family and friends, at their Elkhart church.

But their plans for a traditional ceremony changed suddenly when Sarina’s high-risk pregnancy took an unexpected turn.

Complications on Valentine’s Day morning prompted the couple to rush to the Elkhart General Hospital emergency room. Immediately whisked upstairs to Labor and Delivery, the couple learned Sarina would spend the rest of her pregnancy on bedrest. She was 33 weeks pregnant.

“Once doctors told them Sarina would not be released until the baby was born, Sarina and Noel asked about the possibility of having a wedding here at the hospital,” said Elisabeth Hazen, RN, Labor and Delivery.

The clinicians and medical staff started discussing ways they could make this happen.

They began volunteering to bring in decorations and food. It generated quite the buzz, since this was the first time anyone who works in Labor and Delivery can remember planning a hospital wedding.

But time suddenly became of the essence when doctors decided it would be best for mother and baby to schedule Sarina for a c-section in short order.

Instead of weeks, the Labor and Delivery nurses had about 30 hours to pull it together — both a ceremony and a reception for the couple, which would end up falling on the same day they initially chose to be married.

And instead of the wedding taking place at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Noel and Sarina would exchange vows in the hospital chapel.

“As obstetrical nurses, we already feel privileged to participate in new families welcoming their newborns into the world, but this was doubly special for us to be part of another watershed moment in a family’s life,” said Michele DeStefano, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, Charge Nurse, Maternity Services.

“Noel and Sarina are just incredible people, so charming,” she said.

Given the amazingly tight timeframe, Michele said they were lucky to have just enough time to get a bouquet, boutonniere and wedding cake ordered.

“We frequently do carry-in celebrations for our own staff birthdays and the like, so getting volunteers to bring some finger foods wasn’t hard at all,” she said. “We all relished the opportunity to help this family celebrate such special day in their lives.”

When patients like Sarina are in the hospital on bedrest, patients and their families become close with the staff.

“The physicians and nurses have spent many hours caring for Sarena and her baby boy, and Noel has barely left her side,” Elisabeth said. “They have shared their sweet story of how they met, the wedding plans they were making, and that they desperately wanted to be married before the birth of their baby boy.

“Considering the circumstances, it was the least we could do to help make their day special,” she added.

It was standing room only in the chapel for the 6 p.m. nuptials. Noel stood at the front of the room in his black tuxedo and blue tie, as Sarina entered wearing a white maternity shirt and sweater and carrying a white bouquet with blue ribbon.

A high priest from the couple’s church presided over the ceremony, which was said in Spanish.

Traditional wedding music was played from a speaker set on the back of Sarina’s wheelchair as Noel pushed her across the hospital to a small reception in Labor and Delivery.

Nurses, physicians and other clinicians and staff brought food, beverages and decorations, complete with a traditional tiered wedding cake, while others volunteered their time.

“While this wasn’t how Sarina and Noel had originally envisioned their wedding day,” Michele DeStefano said. “But it was memorable and sweet and we loved being a part of it. What a blessing this was for our team.”

Noel and Sarina appreciated the generosity and kindness from everyone at Elkhart General Hospital.

“Our wedding turned more beautiful than we imagined, with much care and love from everyone,” Noel Hernandez said. “We will be forever grateful.”