Patient weds long-time love

John Wiley thought that when the time was right, he would propose to Marilyn Curtis. He bought a ring so he would be ready.Ceremony

Wiley, a former engineer for the U.S. Navy, is 76. Curtis is 64. They have been together for 23 years. “What we had just worked for us,” Wiley says. “We were both independent people. We didn’t see any need to change it.”

Curtis was equally satisfied with their relationship. Wiley carried the diamond solitaire ring in his briefcase for 21 years.

But last Friday, Wiley received devastating news: the cancer that he had been battling was not responding to treatment. He might only live for a few more weeks.

“He talked to me about proposing for a long time after he got the news,” says Shelbi Kruse, RN. Kruse, a staff nurse on surgery unit 16300, had become a friend of the couple during Wiley’s frequent visits to Barnes-Jewish Hospital over the course of his cancer treatments. “We talked for hours. Marrying her was the only thing he wanted to do.”

Confined to his hospital bed, Wiley asked Curtis to bring him a gray box that he kept in his briefcase. She had no idea that she was bringing him her own engagement ring. “I didn’t even say ‘yes’ at first,” Curtis recalls. “I was just so shocked.”

When Curtis finally accepted, Kruse and her coworkers sprang into action. “I knew we could do it here at the hospital,” Kruse says. “Everyone wanted to make it special. We knew that because of his condition, we didn’t have much time.”

She rallied her resources. Reverend Julie Berger, a Barnes-Jewish Hospital chaplain, agreed to officiate the ceremony in Wiley’s hospital room. David Linehan, MD, the Washington University hepatobiliary surgeon who operated on Wiley, filled out paperwork to expedite the marriage license application. Unit secretary Krystal Fulton arranged for her father, a professional photographer, to come shoot the ceremony and create a wedding album.

Flowers were ordered from the hospital gift shop and the bride had her hair done at the Philip Johnson salon, located in the hospital. Kruse brought her young daughters to act as flower girls. Fulton arranged decorations, draping the walls of Wiley’s room with sheets to hide the hospital machines and brightening up the space with stars and garlands. Team members Ceremonybrought food and drinks, including a wedding cake. Amelia Welch, a food service worker, provided wedding bands for the couple.

Surrounded by two dozen family, friends and staff, Wiley and Curtis wed in room 16342 on Tuesday afternoon.

“All I asked for was to marry her,” Wiley said after the brief ceremony ended. “I never, ever expected anything like this.”

“When you ask for something around here, you’re going to get the best,” Kruse responded.

Rev. Berger says that in her role as a palliative care chaplain, weddings are few and far between. “People tend to think of palliative care as a very sad thing,” she says. “Today proved that the tears really can be happy ones.”

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Category: Patient Stories

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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