Marrying while in intensive care

Marrying while in intensive care

When 25-year-old Toni married childhood sweetheart Jesse, it was no ordinary wedding. Wheeled in her hospital bed to The Alfred Hospital chapel, attached to life support machines and hours away from having major heart surgery, Toni and Jesse showed the world what true love looks like. 

Shortly after the birth of their second child Madisyn in 2018, Toni found she was constantly out of breath, tired and losing weight. It wasn’t until Jesse came home to find Toni barely breathing that the seriousness of her condition was realised.

Tests revealed Toni was suffering from rapidly progressive and potentially fatal heart failure as well as Stage Four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which had already spread through her neck, chest and abdomen.

Toni was transferred to The Alfred for treatment where complications meant she eventually had to be placed on life support. Behind the scenes medical staff were working frantically to try everything to save Toni’s life. 

Toni was put on the most extreme type of life support, ECMO (ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine) which acts as a person’s heart and lungs when their own don’t work. Toni’s situation was a first for The Alfred, with the combination of heart failure and cancer, her treatment had to be unique. She was placed on ECMO whilst in a coma and given chemotherapy at the same time.  

One of Toni’s doctors, Intensivist Dashiell Gantner said it was done with some serious considerations and extensive consultation between specialities.

“None of us would have dreamt this was possible and I’m not aware this has been done anywhere else in the world. It was really a choice between certain death and a slim chance of survival” Dr Gantner said.

Gradually Toni started to improve and after three and half weeks in a coma, she was woken up and it wasn’t long before Jesse took the chance to pop the big question, asking Toni to marry him. Toni said ‘yes’ and it was then that Alfred staff really flew into action. 

The couple wanted to marry before Toni underwent urgent surgery the following week, which doctors had indicated Toni may not survive. Toni’s heart pump had to be removed and her only hope for survival was if her own heart was able to work on its own. 

Within three days, staff organised everything in preparation for the big day. Nurse and ECMO specialists oversaw the logistics of moving Toni to The Alfred’s chapel safely. Fortunately this was not to be Toni’s last day with her family. She not only survived the surgery, but is now home with her family and doing incredibly well. 

The Alfred is the largest ECMO centre nationally, providing ECMO support to more than 100 patients per year. We are incredibly grateful to our donors who provide the support to purchase equipment, like ECMO, allowing us to remain at the forefront of best practice healthcare.

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