Sharp Memorial patient Jesse Martinez (left) was able to walk his daughter, Brittanie Haszel, down the aisle and celebrate the big day alongside his wife, Cyndi. Photo courtesy of Allie Lindsey Photography.
It was less than a month before her wedding when Brittanie Haszel received a text from her mother asking if she and her fiancé, Matt, were available for a video call.
The couple, who lived in San Francisco at the time, thought the chat would be another in a series of recent discussions about wedding logistics. But when her mother came on screen, Haszel knew something was terribly wrong.
Her mother was draped in a blanket — the blanket — that she'd kept with her the last two times Haszel's father, Jesse Martinez, was hospitalized at Sharp Memorial Hospital for leukemia.
"I started crying," says Haszel, who immediately realized her father's cancer had returned a third time. "He can't be admitted. He just can't. We have a wedding. He had to be there."
Haszel knew what lay ahead for her father. Three weeks of aggressive chemotherapy followed by several days of recovery as Martinez's crippled immune system regained strength. During this time, he would be at increased risk for an infection, making the possibility of attending a crowded wedding — filled with hugs and handshakes — almost unimaginable.
Martinez was devastated. The thought of missing the chance to walk his oldest daughter down the aisle felt like one blow too many.
His caregivers at Sharp Memorial recognized Jesse's heartbreak. They vowed to do whatever they could to get the father of the bride to Haszel's big day, even if just for a little while.
That included close monitoring of his vital signs, lab results, stamina and a host of other requirements. If everything looked good, Martinez's doctors would give him the green light to leave the hospital briefly to be at his daughter's side.
When the big day arrived, Martinez passed all of the doctor's requirements. His nurses helped him get ready and dress in his tuxedo.
"When he was told he could go, that was the first time he looked like the Jesse I knew since he came back to the hospital," says Kelly Flood, a clinical lead and one of Martinez's long-time caregivers at Sharp Memorial. "Quality of life does matter. When you get defeated, it's moments like this that give our patients strength."
On her day off, Flood accompanied Martinez to the wedding, held outside at Balboa Park. She stopped guests from getting too close, passed out sanitizing hand wipes, and kept Martinez from holding any of the bouquets (live plants carry potentially dangerous bacteria).
Martinez was able to walk Haszel down the aisle, deliver a speech during dinner, and dance with her to the country song, "I Loved Her First." He returned to Sharp Memorial about halfway through the reception, but watched the rest of it over live video.
"It meant so much that everyone was pulling for me — and I mean everyone," Martinez says. "The doctors, the nurses, the social workers, even the cleaning lady. I can't thank them enough for getting me to that wedding. I'll remember it forever."
For the news media: To talk with members of Jesse's Sharp Memorial care team for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.