Imagine your wedding day. Many of us have, some from the time we were little girls playing dress up with our mother’s veil and pearls. In our minds, the day is perfect. The bride sweeps elegantly down the aisle as friends and family watch with smiles. At the reception, everyone dances and laughs and enjoys the good company. Then the bride and groom head off to start their new life together in a whirl of confetti and cheers of “congratulations!” from friends and family. Our March Fayette Woman, Melanie Brown, had a different experience on the path to holy matrimony: while she should have been doing her nails and attending her wedding rehearsal, Melanie Brown was stricken with a life-threatening condition that landed her in the hospital in the days and hours leading up to her wedding day.
Melanie’s wedding day is a remarkable story of faith, courage, support and love. And finally, a happily ever after.
Raised in Peachtree City, Georgia, Melanie Brown attended Converse College, a women’s liberal arts college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, after her 1999 graduation from McIntosh High School. One day, while still at Converse, a family friend needed a date for a political event and she agreed to fly to New Hampshire to accompany him.
At the same time, a certain Joshua Knox, a student at Colgate University near Syracuse, New York, was also preparing to attend the same gala and asked a friend to be his date.
That night, Joshua and Melanie, while in the accompaniment of other dates, were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. As the evening wore on, the two came to realize that they were there with the wrong people – and that they really belonged together! So began their long distance courtship. Melanie graduated from Converse and went on to Western Michigan University to earn her Masters degree. And as with all such dating situations, there were lots of long distance phone calls and plenty of trips back and forth to visit each other at school.
“We spent a lot of time in airports,” Melanie says with a laugh. On one such trip to see him, a year and a half into their relationship, she recalls how Joshua was waiting for her in the baggage claim area as he usually did. But this was not going to be any ordinary visit.
“Suddenly, right there by the baggage carousel, he dropped down on one knee and proposed!” she says. “It was pretty romantic, considering how much of our relationship centered around trips to the airport. It was very appropriate.” And from that point forward, they happily began to make wedding plans.
Melanie knew she wanted to get married in Peachtree City. Her family church, Peachtree City United Methodist, would be the site and the Rev. Betsy Haas, who also baptized Melanie as a teenager, would officiate the ceremony. The couple chose July 29, 2006 for their wedding day, working around Melanie’s school schedule. Although school and work obligations would leave no time for a honeymoon immediately following the wedding, Joshua and Melanie were content just to start their new life together and plan a honeymoon later.
“I’m not one of those girls who had their wedding planned from the age of four. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about the wedding,” Melanie says. “We both just wanted a great, relaxing day where everyone was mingling together and having fun. Because Joshua’s whole family was coming in from out of town, our main goal was that everyone was comfortable and getting to know each other.”
Melanie’s mom, Marcia Brown, handled many of the planning details, doing most of the legwork for Melanie, now at the University of Vermont pursuing her Ph.D. in Mathematics. “I designated my mom as my ‘agent in the field’” says Melanie. “In fact, I think some of the vendors were wishing I was a little more decisive. I mean, the florist had to start off by narrowing down between colored flowers or white flowers before we could even move on to types of flowers and arrangements. I just wasn’t concerned with those types of things,” she expresses.
With this easy-going attitude and a wonderfully helpful mother, planning was a breeze. To encourage the relaxing, comfortable atmosphere that Joshua and Melanie wanted for the wedding, a backyard rehearsal dinner was planned at the Brown’s home as a way to get the two families together and have fun.
A week before the wedding, all the details were coming together. Being hurricane season, there were even contingency plans in place in case a storm decided to visit Fayette County. The countdown to the wedding day was on.
That’s when Melanie felt an acute pain in her abdomen.
“I just figured it was stress,” she says. But by Wednesday, just days before the “Big Day,” the pain was still there, along with some minor swelling in her right leg. “I elevated my leg and went to bed early, hoping the next day it would all be fine,” Melanie explains. “I wasn’t ignoring the problem; I was just busy doing other things and wasn’t going to let myself get concerned over nothing.”
The next morning, Marcia decided to get her daughter to the emergency room to have her checked out. Joshua’s mom and Melanie’s sister, Marissa, went along while Marcia continued to take care of last minute wedding details.
“Once I was at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, they started running every test imaginable,” Melanie recalls. “I wasn’t displaying any classic symptoms, so they checked for everything – hernia, gall stones, blood tests, scans; but no one could tell us anything.”
It would take until eight o’clock that evening before a diagnosis was made, and when it was, the news was frightening. Melanie was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that forms in a deep vein of the leg.
DVT is dangerous because it can lead to a pulmonary embolism, when pieces of the clot break off and travel to the lungs, blocking blood flow to the heart, which can be fatal.
Testing revealed that Melanie’s DVT was brought on by a genetic mutation called Factor V Leiden that encourages clotting. Those with the gene have a five times greater risk of developing a blood clot.
Melanie’s illness, like that of up to fifty percent of DVT incidents, produced few symptoms and was therefore difficult to diagnose. Doctors told the bride she needed to stay in the hospital for at least a week.
Word of Melanie’s condition spread fast. The bridesmaids canceled their Trivia Night plans in Atlanta and flocked to be by Melanie’s side. Marcia began making “what if” plans and Joshua set up camp on the hospital room couch, prepared to stay by his fiancée’s side.
“My first priority was Melanie,” Marcia says. “Suddenly it wasn’t worth worrying over the little things anymore. The day of the rehearsal, everyone pulled together. While I was at the hospital with Melanie, I called our good friends Al and Denise Jolly and just said ‘help!’ They came over with their family and took Joshua’s parents to the grocery store, handled the cooking for the rehearsal dinner and were a huge help.”
After spending one night in the hospital, Melanie was determined to make it home in time for her rehearsal dinner Friday night. When asked if they ever considered canceling the wedding, she emphatically replies, “No!” Marcia recalls things a little differently. Glancing at her daughter, she says “Well…I was looking at the alternatives.” It was less than 24 hours before Melanie was due to begin her trip down the aisle and the wedding was still up in the air.
So Melanie staged a campaign to get out of the hospital. “I was doing some serious wheeling and dealing,” she says. “I was even prepared to play the “bridezilla” card if it was going to get me home. Finally they agreed to let me go, and cleared me to walk down the aisle on the condition that I sit through the ceremony and use a wheelchair at the reception.”
The Browns also knew that there would be four RNs and two pharmacists in attendance at the ceremony, and agreed to bring Melanie back to the hospital the day after the wedding. She arrived at her family’s Peachtree City home around six o’clock with the rehearsal dinner in full swing…and went straight to bed.
“Because she had missed all her spa appointments that day, the bridesmaids truly were the ‘bride’s maids’ that night,” Marcia recalls fondly. “They gathered around Melanie on the bed and did her nails, gave her a facial, helped her bathe. They really took care of her and it was such a beautiful thing to watch their love and friendship that night.”
And suddenly, the wedding day arrived. Melanie went to her hair appointment in a wheelchair, just “happy to be out of the hospital, happy to be getting married.” It took all her bridesmaids to help her get into her gown because she wasn’t allowed to stand much, and when her shoes didn’t fit due to the pronounced swelling in her leg, they all offered to go barefoot with her. (She eventually settled on a pair of white Birkenstocks her mom found.)
At the church, Rev. Betsy informed the congregation of the situation and announced that they would wait until Melanie felt able to walk down the aisle, regardless of how long it took. “Betsy and I had a contingency plan,” Marcia says. “If an ambulance was called, Betsy would just continue the ceremony on the way to the hospital. But we were going to make sure Melanie and Joshua got married that day.”
The groom, meanwhile, was waiting in the basement of the church. “I hadn’t seen her all day, I didn’t even know if we’d be getting married that day. I was just relieved to see her walk down the aisle; I’m just happy she’s alive,” Joshua says of his wedding day memories.
And walk down the aisle she did. Melanie remembers, “I was in pain until I started down the aisle, then adrenaline took over. Everyone in the church took that first step with me. People were on the edge of their seats.”
The couple sat in chairs on the stage as Rev. Betsy conducted a speed wedding, telling the couple that they were already living out the “in sickness and in health” part of their vows together. Then it was off to the reception, where the bridesmaids had decorated a wheelchair for Melanie and the bride and groom enjoyed a spontaneous wheelchair dance.
“Melanie and Joshua really kept their sense of humor about everything, even though they were dealt a terrible hand of cards,” mom Marcia says. “They kept the focus of the day on their families and on being together, and because they were able to enjoy themselves, everyone else was able to relax and have a good time.”
Since Melanie had been too sick the day of the wedding to pose for her bridal portraits, the pictures were “re-mocked” weeks later when she was on the road to recovery. She returned to the Kelli-Paul Salon to have her hair re-done, the bridesmaids gathered to reapply makeup and nail polish, her dress was cleaned by J. Andrews Bridal Salon, and Sue Newman, the wedding photographer, reshot the photos. And thanks to A Blue Lady Florist, “It helped that I had a silk bouquet!” Melanie says. Looking at the beautiful pictures today, it is hard to remember these were taken much later, and Melanie credits her vendors with being so flexible and accommodating, never hesitating to help in the wedding recreation.
Following the wedding, Melanie was put on bed rest for a month, only allowed up for doctor’s appointments. Joshua, now a high school Latin teacher, returned to Vermont for work and Melanie’s dad, Bob Brown, went there to help Joshua move their things into the newlywed’s apartment. Weeks later, Melanie’s parents drove their daughter to Vermont to join her new husband, stopping every hour or so during the long journey to allow Melanie to walk about for ten minutes, per doctor’s instructions.
They arrived in Vermont on a Friday and Melanie, who is a Graduate Teaching Fellow while pursuing her doctorate, was teaching by 8 a.m. Monday morning. “The doctors cleared me to not only start the fall semester on time, but to get up and teach five days a week!” adds Melanie. She will get a full medical clearance this April, nine months following the diagnosis of her DVT. In the meantime, Melanie is on-track to graduate in 2009 and looks to teach at the collegiate level, ideally at a four-year liberal arts college.
So this story does have a happy ending after all. Reflecting on all the events that occurred in July, Melanie says, “It certainly wasn’t what I had planned for my wedding day, but we still have many wonderful memories.”