After COVID-19 and cancer force couple to postpone wedding, hospital staff steps in to help family celebrate during difficult time

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First COVID-19 then cancer forced a young couple to quickly change their wedding plans. But it was the last-minute assistance from hospital staff that helped them pull off an outdoor ceremony the bride and her mother had always dreamt about. 

The simple garden, with tall grasses and a manicured lawn, sits just outside hospital doors.  It wasn’t the venue Alyssa and Akeem Sutherland had imagined. They had planned to marry in November but moved their wedding to 2021 once COVID-19 hit.

Then, another change in plans.

For nearly eight years, Alyssa Sutherland’s mother Karen Hoehne had fought ovarian cancer.

“(She) never felt sorry for herself was always just positive and optimistic through it,” Alyssa Sutherland said.

Just two months after her daughter got engaged in February, Karen Hoehne’s cancer returned. This time it was a terminal diagnosis.

“In just April we found out she didn’t have any options to deal with it,” Akeem Sutherland said. “And they only gave her six months or less to live.” 

“Probably the biggest gut punch I’ve ever felt,” Alyssa Sutherland said. “We were just dress shopping in February together and talking about how amazing it was she was at the wedding.” 

Alyssa and Akeem decided to move the date of their wedding — again – to a backyard ceremony in June so Hoehne could be there. But just days before the rescheduled event, Hoehne was admitted to the ICU at Northwestern Medicine’s Lake Forest hospital, and ultimately placed in hospice care.

“We’d gotten so far in the cancer process with her and then to be so close to your dream and get it ripped away from you a few days before it was supposed to happen,” Alyssa Sutherland said. “And then you don’t know if you’re going to be able to do it again.” 

That’s when hospital staff members stepped in to help. 

Taking on the role of wedding planner, manager of spiritual care and patient services Jeremy Miselbrook, PhD consulted a few experts.

“As chaplains here at the hospital we pay attention to people’s emotional and spiritual needs and try to take care of any social situations that they have,” he said. “I spoke to the appropriate departments here; risk management, infection prevention, the nursing administration, the executive team – everyone gave their complete support.” 

On June 27, with her mom and dad, Ted, by her side, Alyssa walked down the aisle to Akeem in the hospital garden.

“You look over and you see her smiling it just gave me goosebumps and I wanted to cry,” she said.

“Since she was a little girl, she always wanted to have her mom do things at the wedding for her like walk her down the aisle and just watch her get married,” Akeem Sutherland said. “So it was very important for her to see that happen.”

“As a little girl you always picture your special day and your parents being there. And seeing that she fought so hard even just to get to that day in the hospital, and all these people who just met us are working together,” Alysaa Sutherland said. “The fact that they took an interest in our family and genuinely wanted to help with us is the greatest feeling. She was just so happy that day.”

Hoehne passed away just two weeks after her daughter’s wedding. But the bride and groom said they’re so grateful they had the chance to celebrate their special day surrounded by family.

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