I’ve been asked several times why the butterfly is such a meaningful symbol, not just for me and my fiancé Ty, but for the entire transplant population. And put quite simply, it’s important because a butterfly symbolizes hope.
Before it can spread its wings, a butterfly spends its life waiting as a caterpillar just like those who need a life-saving transplant also wait for their beautiful transformations. Just when the caterpillar thinks its world is over, the metamorphosis happens. The journey represents all the hardships, challenges and fears patients like me face before a transplant, as well as the magical outcome that can happen for those who continue fighting.
A lot like transplant patients who dream of their transformation, little girls dream of wedding days. I dreamt of both. I wanted to be swept off my feet by a handsome groom, surrounded by family, wearing a big white gown, living life with my new lungs and dancing for hours until my feet hurt – then dancing some more.
Dancing, however, is hard to imagine at a time when you’re only able to use 15 percent of your lungs, not to mention when you’d have to avoid tripping over your oxygen hose. These are the reasons why I told my then-boyfriend Ty we should wait to get married until after my surgery – if that day ever came.
One-half of our dream was set in motion April 4, 2015, when Ty proposed. As soon as I was engaged my first instinct was to plan. The thought of dress shopping was one of the most exciting parts for me, but there was no way I could physically go to a boutique and try on dresses – I wasn’t strong enough. I hoped to be doing all of the fun things a bride-to-be does, but I was too sick. And I refused to let my illness force us to rush in or get married in a hospital because that didn’t feel right to me, my fiancé or my family.
So our marriage didn’t start to feel like a reality until weeks later when, miraculously, we learned I’d be getting a transplant. My transformation began April 16, 2015, after a successful surgery, and so did the wedding planning! Ty and I immediately knew where we needed to have our engagement photos taken. The Butterfly Exhibit was running at the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati and thanks to our friend, Local 12 reporter Brad Johansen – who had been following our story since the beginning – we were able to have the conservatory all to ourselves for a private photo session. It was beautiful. I had never been to the conservatory, but the butterflies surrounding us made it feel like home. The pictures and memories of that day will last forever.
Ty and I decided to take a “pre-honeymoon” vacation to the US Virgin Islands, on St. John, a place that Ty had once called home for eight months. We spent two weeks together doing things I’ve never been able to do. I went snorkeling and swimming with turtles, starfish, sea fans and some of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen – it was incredible! Throughout our trip, it felt like my organ donor was there with me, experiencing all the beauty the Island had to offer. To this day, our pre-honeymoon is probably the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. I’m so extremely blessed and thankful that we were able to go, and I can’t wait to keep exploring all the wanders that the world has to offer with my new lungs.
Before all this excitement began, I decided to keep a journal of “firsts” to send to my donor’s family. I want to make them proud and share all the things I’ve been able to do thanks to the life-saving gift from their loved one. My donor was there with me during my first walk with my new lungs, my first 4.4 mile hike, my first 5k, and my first snorkeling adventure. My donor will also be with me on our wedding day. We plan to pay tribute on our special day because without my donor and their family, we wouldn’t have a wedding.
Ty and I will get married in Mason, Ohio on June 4, 2016, in front of 300 guests. The ceremony is outside in a private garden and gazebo, and we will be dancing the night away in a ballroom – just how I’d always dreamed it would happen. Our colors are picked out – mint and bellini – and I was finally able to shop for my perfect dress. Everything has fallen into place and we couldn’t be more thankful or excited!
We know that our wedding day will be perfect no matter what happens thanks to our family, friends, my donor family and so many other supporters. When the planning starts to feel overwhelming, I just remember how grateful and lucky I am to be able to marry my best friend.