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Many hands help make wedding dream come true

Oct. 1, 2015, 8:14 AM

Caleb Hanby and Bethany Davidson exchange wedding vows last week in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt University Hospital. (photo by Mary Lou Dodson)

Their wedding date was just weeks away when Caleb Hanby and his fiancée Bethany Davidson rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center last Thursday.

Hanby, 28, was gravely ill and having trouble breathing in the early hours of the morning. About a year earlier, he had been diagnosed with a rare cancer of the skeletal muscle in his jaw.

The illness was progressing faster than they had expected. That morning, as emergency physicians placed Hanby on oxygen to help stabilize him, Davidson realized that she might lose her fiancé before their wedding day.

“I knew it needed to happen that day,” Davidson said. “I couldn’t live without the opportunity to be married to my soul mate.”

Shortly after he was placed in the Medical Intensive Care Unit on the 8th floor, plans went into motion to throw an impromptu ceremony. With their parents already in town or on their way, Hanby and Davidson called their pastor from Judson Baptist Church in Nashville to come to the hospital.

Hanby, a personal trainer originally from Michigan, had been undergoing treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma since October — rounds of both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But the cancer had resisted treatment.

Patricia Holguin and other cafeteria personnel worked quickly to make the couple’s wedding cake.

Mary Ann George, a medical receptionist for the unit, learned about the wedding and offered to help any way she could.

First, George called the gift shop to arrange for a bouquet. Next, she got on the phone with dining services, asking Executive Chef George Moran for a wedding cake fast — in two hours.

She even called on her mother to serve as the dedicated photographer for the event.

The dining services staff worked quickly, setting aside time from their normal duties to prepare a cake with two stacked tiers and smooth white frosting decorated with purple icing flowers.

Meanwhile on a walk through the hospital, George found several bouquets of flowers that were to be thrown away. She gathered and brought them to Hanby’s room for the ceremony.

A boutonniere was pinned onto Hanby’s hospital gown. The hustle of the wedding preparations seemed to recharge his energy, and he eagerly awaited the ceremony.

A short while later, friends and family gathered in the room with Hanby, and a small group of people looked on from the hallway.

As the ceremony began, Todd Rice, M.D., MSCI, associate professor of Medicine, the attending physician for the unit that day, walked into the room carrying the two simple rings from the hospital gift shop. Lauren Hill, R.N., a nurse on the unit, walked with him, casting paper flower petals onto the floor.

Newlyweds Caleb Hanby and Bethany Davidson shared the moment with family members, including Toni Davidson, left, and Michelle and Jeff Hanby. (photo by Mary Lou Dodson)

Finally, Davidson, escorted by her mother, walked tearfully into the flower-filled room and took her place alongside Hanby’s bed. He reached out and held her hand as they listened to the words of their minister and repeated their vows.

For the family, the efforts shown by VUMC faculty and staff far exceeded their expectations for patient care.

“They’ve gone above and beyond,” said Michelle Hanby, Caleb’s mother. “It’s not just a job for them.”

Davidson said she was overwhelmed with the emotion that filled the room during the ceremony and touched by the gestures of hospital staff and faculty.

“They’ve made us feel like we’re the most important people at this hospital, with all that they’ve done,” Davidson said.

Hanby called the ceremony beautiful and perfect.

“It made me feel complete,” he said.

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