HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Jonathan Sales and Alyssa Griffin were supposed to have a big, expensive wedding in May, followed by a honeymoon cruise in August.
But Sales’ cancer diagnosis less than two weeks ago made them decide to change all that, and Connecticut Children’s, where he is staying and receiving chemotherapy treatment for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stepped in to help.
For Sales, 26, the decision was driven by experience.
When he was 13, Sales — now a seventh-grade science teacher at Swift Middle School in the Oakville section of Watertown — was diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia and was successfully treated at Connecticut Children’s. But the cancer forced him to learn about mortality at a young age and made him into the realist he is today.
“Knowing I wanted to marry her, it had to happen sooner,” Sales said. “We told (hospital officials) we wanted to do this, and they went flying with it.”
In short order, hospital social worker Mary Laliberte took on the role of wedding planner and transformed two conference rooms adjacent to the cafeteria into a wedding chapel with seating for the 75 or so close friends and family members who made the trip to Hartford for the hastily scheduled service.
Resident physician John Norko, a justice of the peace, officiated the ceremony, and countless staff members assisted in the planning and made sure to stop by to see the first-ever wedding at the hospital.
Area businesses also donated goods and services to the event, including flowers, tuxedos, wedding favors, table settings, entertainment, food, beverages and photography.
“Connecticut Children’s have been amazing,” said Griffin, 27, an IT specialist for the nonprofit Save the Children. “This makes us feel very loved.”
Griffin said that she and Sales “had a tough conversation” after he was diagnosed and that the two were prepared to get married in his hospital room with just their parents in attendance, if necessary. The goal, she said, was not to put their lives on hold.
“If I get to marry Jonathan, I don’t care where it is,” Griffin said.
Sales, who hosted his bachelor party with pizza and movies in his hospital room Friday night, acknowledged that it wasn’t how he envisioned his wedding day, but added that it didn’t matter.
“All I care about is her. That’s all I really care about,” he said.
A short time later Sales, dressed in a black tuxedo and accompanied by four groomsmen and a grooms-lady entered the chapel and waited at the alter for Griffin, who said, “My god, it’s beautiful,” when she got her first glance of the transformed meeting space.
Then the two — who had asked guests to donate gift cards for groceries, gas and other items for other families at the hospital in lieu of gifts for them — exchanged their own vows, placed rings on each other’s fingers and engaged in a lengthy kiss amidst much applause.