Internet helps Pa. patient watch wedding

October 11, 2008 3:05:57 PM PDT
She entered the room - the veiled, auburn-haired bride in a white gown flanked by her father - and there was silence, as those who watched paused to catch their breath. Certainly, no one could have been prouder than the bride's mother, who wept at the sight.

Dressed in a shimmering black and turquoise embroidered pant suit, Fran Miller of Lower Macungie Township watched the fairy tale unfold not from an aisle seat at the Hotel Bethlehem last week, but through a live video from her hospital bed at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

Surrounding her were the smiling faces of those who had seen her through almost continuous hospitalization over the last year and a half. This time they came - family, friends, nurses and medical staff - on their days off to share in the mother's joy on her daughter Michele's wedding day.

"She's a beauty, Fran," said one of the nurses.

"Just like you, Fran," said another.

At the hospital, Fran had to be propped up, tethered to intravenous tubes and an oxygen tank beneath her bed. But her hair was styled, nails manicured and makeup carefully applied by hospital staff. In her hand she held a white handkerchief, a gift from Michele, embroidered with her name and wedding date.

At the Hotel Bethlehem, more than nine miles away, the bride smiled and dabbed at her eyes as she faced her groom.

"Fran, you see her staring at the camera?" Fran's therapist Janice Cooper said.

"Yeah," came the soft and labored response. "She's looking for you," Cooper said.

Before last year Fran, who just turned 60, had always been relatively healthy. The most serious threat to her health had been pneumonia. Then she developed an intestinal obstruction. The first surgery was in March 2007. There were other obstructions, complications and ultimately 10 more surgeries.

"And it just keeps coming," said her husband, Ron.

Good news came as well. Fran and Ron's youngest, their daughter Michele, became engaged to Michael Loy, whose longtime friendship had blossomed into love and a marriage proposal in November 2007.

It was around the same time that Fran was released from the hospital to spend Thanksgiving with family. Times were good and the Millers were delighted to be with their daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law.

"He was old-fashioned enough to ask her father's permission," her father said.

Then in August, the Millers went to a Philadelphia specialist, who recommended Fran take some time to build up her strength at a rehabilitation center before yet another surgery. One of the big questions was, will she be able to attend her daughter's wedding? The answer, to everyone's great relief, was probably yes.

"She would have been able to go," said Ron. "That was the goal that we were working toward."

Then, last month she developed a life-threatening infection. She was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at LVH, where she had the first surgery more than a year earlier.

"The first night was touch and go," Ron said. She made it through the night to face other setbacks and victories, including a move two weeks ago from the ICU to a regular room on the same floor where she spent so much time recuperating from previous surgeries.

The ICU nurses came to visit her there and she gradually regained her strength. Fran was talking about going to the wedding. Two of the nurses volunteered to take her on their day off.

"The real question was, was she able to?" Ron said.

The answer this time was no. The news came down hard. Fran, who has spent birthdays, Easter, Mother's Day and Christmas in the hospital, would be there for her daughter's wedding too.

It was too late to cancel. Postponing would have been impossible. Fran had already had missed the bridal shower, instead sending a poignant videotaped message from her hospital bed. She was home for a short time, long enough to help her daughter pick out a wedding dress.

"She missed the shower and a lot of the preparations that moms are supposed to do," Ron said. "But we still have her and that's what's important."

Still, Ron struggled with wanting to bring the wedding to his wife.

"You can take pictures, you can videotape it, but it's not the same," he said.

He thought of the Web camera he uses to communicate with their son David and his family in Cleveland, and figured there must be a way to harness that technology for the wedding. Ron has spent his career in retail, but he's always been fascinated by technology.

He sent e-mails to television stations, newspapers, anyone who could tell him how to set up a live video feed from a camcorder to the hospital. He gathered all the advice he could. Then he set it up.

Fran's patient care coordinator, Susan Eckhart, took over the day of the wedding, making sure the video equipment at the hospital was working and the room decorated with a bouquet of fresh flowers. She phoned Ron to make sure he was set up at the other end.

"All right?" Ron asked, looking into the camera before the ceremony.

"All right," Eckhart said. "You go do your fatherly duty now."


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