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Midlothian couple exchange vows in ICU

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Updated: December 14, 2013 6:34AM



Amid the beeps of medical monitors and drips of IV bags, Bremen High School sweethearts Kevin Falcon and Anita Ziolkowski became husband and wife Tuesday afternoon.

A few family members squeezed into the intensive care unit at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest — many more than the usual two allowed — while the guest of honor, the bride’s grandmother, lay at their side in her hospital bed as the brief and bittersweet ceremony was conducted.

Just days before, Grandma — Vivian Freiwald — was saying how it was her dream to be at her granddaughter’s upcoming wedding, tentatively planned for 2014. But the next day, Sunday, the 90-year-old suffered a severe stroke.

Anita brought her to the emergency room Sunday night after finding her unresponsive at home. By Monday, realizing the gravity of Grandma’s condition, the young Midlothian couple decided not to wait any longer. With the help of ICU nurse Tina Maltese, they got permission to get married in her hospital room.

“We wanted to make sure we could do it while she is still with us,” the groom said. Although Grandma was unable to speak, her eyes were open.

“Physically and mentally she is here,” Falcon said.

Freiwald took care of Anita most of her life, and in recent years, Anita had cared for her, Falcon said.

“You think everything is OK, then life throws stuff at you,” he said, taking it all in stride and adding that the couple plan to do “an all-out ceremony” later.

Everything for this version was done at the last minute, he said. On Tuesday morning, they got their marriage license and invited family and friends. They even found time to write their own vows.

Maltese dressed up Grandma, decorated the ICU, and brought a relative to be the professional photographer.

The bride joked that she had only “one day of stress” in planning her wedding, rather than a full year.

“This is amazing,” she said, as hospital staffers wheeled in a decorated wedding cake, adorned with rose petals, for a reception afterward in the ICU waiting room.

“I was so excited when they told me,” mother-of-the-bride Debra Ziolkowski said. “I said ‘What? OMG!’ ”

About a dozen guests were able to attend, but the groom’s parents were not. His mother Sheila Falcon was undergoing surgery at Advocate Christ Medical Center, but relatives recorded the ceremony for her.

“I found out this morning, when I was visiting my sister in the hospital,” said Pamela Padilla, the groom’s aunt. “Sheila wanted me to be here in her place. It is so nice that they are allowing them to do this. My sister loves Anita like a daughter.”

The bride, 23, wore a short white lace dress — one she had in her closet — with a string of pearls and gray pumps, her long brown hair adorned simply with bobby pins. She carried a bouquet of artificial flowers, because real ones are prohibited in the ICU.

The groom, also 23, had a black and white striped shirt and black pants, while his best man and brother Richard wore a Bears sweatshirt. The bride’s cousin, Lori Krempel, was matron of honor.

It was Krempel’s idea to hold the wedding in the hospital, and with the help of her high school friend — Maltese, the nurse — they pulled it off.

The ICU was adorned with wedding bells and streamers, and a few chairs were set up in the tiny room. A small crowd of hospital staff members watched from the hallway as the bride was given away by her mother.

Anita’s bright smile turned to tears when she greeted her grandma.

“I commend you for having your hearts and minds open to this. This is something you will not forget,” said the bride’s cousin, Jason Thomas, as he officiated at the bedside ceremony.

“Anita really wanted this. I’m really glad we did this,” Falcon said.

“This is just awesome,” Debra Ziolkowski said. “Grandma so wanted to be here when Anita got married. It was meant to be this way. Grandma is happy.”

After the reception, the newlyweds posed for pictures on hospital grounds, and then they were on to the next hospital, to share their day with the mother of the groom.



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