January 14, 2005

Hospital wedding fulfills girl’s dream

Featured Image

The Corbitt family poses for its first official portrait moments after the wedding. From left are daughter Oakley, Kevin, son Brody, daughter Kelsee and Heidi Corbitt.

Hospital wedding
fulfills girl’s dream

The wedding march played on a boom box and the decorations consisted mostly of bed sheets, but the wedding ceremony itself was a beautiful occasion for the Corbitt family because it marked the granting of a wish and the completion of a family.

On Dec. 26, Heidi and Kevin Corbitt exchanged vows on the sixth floor myelosuppression unit at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

The guest of honor at the wedding was 3-year-old Kelsee, Heidi's daughter, who has cancer and is being treated in the unit.

“Kelsee's biological father left when she was a baby,” said Heidi. “I had promised her that one day she would have a real daddy. Kevin has been there for her since before she was diagnosed. He thought it was a gift to gain a daughter and Kelsee wanted Kevin's children to be her little brother and big sister.”

Registered Nurse Linda Fenoglio said Heidi talked frequently over the last year about wanting to marry her beau.

“But each time they made plans they had to cancel because Kelsee became sick or needed to come back into the hospital. There was always something with Kelsee that made them put it off.”

The longer they waited for Kelsee to get well enough, the shorter time was getting. Two weeks before Christmas, Kelsee's spreading cancer overwhelmed the latest round of chemotherapy. The cancer had returned and Heidi knew if her daughter was going to get her wish it was now or never.

“Heidi said she wanted to get married,” recalled Fenoglio. “I knew she meant soon, right here on the unit. I thought, 'there's a first time for everything.'”

Fenoglio talked with peers, then brought it to the team on her unit and ultimately to physicians and managers. The decision was made to move forward, but it was a decision that was not made lightly because the myelosuppression unit is an area that is carefully protected from outside germs.

To safeguard the children inside who have little or no immunity from common viruses, healthy children, even siblings, are not allowed in. But fortunately there were few patients on the unit. Because Kelsee was simply too sick to leave the floor even to go to the hospital chapel, an exception was made. The ceremony would be held in the family quiet room in the myelosuppression unit.

Once the family learned permission for the ceremony had been granted, Heidi called her friend, Victoria Thoman, at the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The foundation rented dresses for Heidi, Kelsee and Kevin's daughter, Oakley. Kevin and his son, Brody, got tuxedos. The foundation even baked a wedding cake with purple icing.

The ceremony was set for 6:30 p.m. the day after Christmas.

Nurses Heather Barksdale and Tiffany Atkinson who were working that night took bed sheets, twisted and looped them like valances, and draped them across the picture windows of the circular quiet room. Tiffany called her mother to bring purple ribbon matching the cake, and placed bows at the corners of the drapes. More bed sheets formed an “aisle” for Heidi to walk down. Everyone agreed it was beautiful.

“I carried Kelsee down the aisle,” Heidi said. “I had a load of emotion: excitement but sadness because she didn't feel good, but I was glad she was there. As I was carrying her with her arms wrapped around my neck, Kelsee said 'Mommy's a princess today, and Mommy's beautiful, Kelsee's a princess, I'm sick.' and tears came down my face.”

With the few other families on the floor that night peeking out from their rooms to see, the Corbitts stood before hospital chaplain Barry Culbertson and became a family.

For the Corbitts the memories are precious.

“Brody said I was beautiful and Oakley kept saying she wanted to hug Kelsee,” Heidi said. “She did get to hug her. The rules were put aside for this one day.”

For Linda Fenoglio, it was priceless.

“We have this concept of family-centered care and this mother wanted so much for Kelsee to be part of a family,” Fenoglio said. “And if this wedding helps the mother, it also helps Kelsee.”