Sarah Kempinska spent two years planning her wedding but whether it would go ahead remained uncertain until the very week of the event, with the bride unconscious in a London, Ont., hospital.
Kempinska had routine surgeries to remove growths in her airways as part of treatment for Granulomatosis with polyangiitis, an autoimmune condition involving the immune system attacking small blood vessels in the body. In her case, it impacts her lungs and airway.
The surgeries, which are handled by her primary care team outside of London, typically see her discharged from hospital the very same day.
“I was not expecting a long recovery,” she explained, “but with this last surgery, you know, this is kind of a complicated disease and we didn’t really expect there to be this complication.”
Soon after the procedure, Kempinska could tell something wasn’t quite right. When she arrived back in London, she was struggling to breathe and ended up going to the emergency department at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) on May 23.
She was admitted for monitoring but when her breathing worsened, she was taken to the operating room and transferred to the critical care and trauma centre where she was intubated and placed in a medically-induced coma.
Her wedding, meanwhile, was supposed to be held June 3.
“I had all of the details meticulously laid out in spreadsheets and contact lists and payments for vendors all laid out. And I think it was all on my phone for the most part. So (my fiancé) Jim had to get a hold of that. And I was, of course, asleep in a coma,” she said.
“He actually used my fingerprint to get into my phone and get all of that stuff and make sure that he could contact the vendors.”
While Jim Kelly, a radio personality with FM96 – a station owned by Corus Entertainment which also owns Global News – helped keep plans afloat, hospital staff were doing what they could to give the bride-to-be her best shot at walking down the aisle as scheduled.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but they were washing and braiding my hair to make sure it was not getting matted before the wedding day. And when they put in a central line (for the IV), they made sure to watch where to put it so it wasn’t going to affect my neckline of my dress,” she said.
“Little things like that they really didn’t have to do, but just went the extra mile.”
One nursing staff member even wrote her a letter that was put in an envelope stating not to read until her wedding day.
While she did not divulge the exact contents of the letter, she said it “brought everything full circle” and reminded her of all the support she received.
“I have it framed now. It’s such a special piece.”
It was a particularly unique experience for one LHSC staff member, Kempinska’s sister Anna Kempinska, an emergency department physician at LHSC’s Children’s Hospital.
“Usually when I come in the doors of the hospital, I turn right to go to work,” she said.
“This time I was turning left to go to the resuscitation room to be with Sarah. And I think as a medical professional, you know the worst of the worst, you know what could happen and so it was very unsettling to be so out of control.”
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Anna Kempinska helped to explain the complicated medical information to their large, supportive family, adding that as important as the wedding was, her sister’s health was the priority.
“We just wanted Sarah to get better and get her out of the hospital. But, you know, one minute you would sort of be trying to help plan this wedding that Sarah had spent two years planning for. And then the next minute our family would look at each other and say, ‘there’s no way this wedding is going to happen.’”
But with just four days to go before saying “I do,” Kempinska awoke from her coma. At that point, she was using a walker and was exhausted after taking 10 steps on her own.
“The nursing staff were amazing at helping me through that and the physiotherapist as well, but it was all just up in the air. About maybe three days before the wedding, Jim and I were on the phone with the wedding venue talking about alternative dates because we just didn’t know if it was going to happen,” she explained.
“But ultimately, I just remember looking at Jim and saying, ‘I just want to be married to you.’”
Kempinska was released from the hospital on May 30 and married June 3. She required some assistance but was able to walk down the aisle and even dance a little.
In retrospect, LHSC says it’s now believed that the impacts of the disease were worse than first thought when Kempinska’s surgery was conducted, which also occurred after a longer time frame than before due to the pandemic. Additionally, LHSC says that the medications she was on may not have been working as well as they should have.
Going forward, “better medical control will be explored” ahead of future surgeries to lessen the risk of complications, LHSC says.
Kempinska says there is no cure, but she is lucky to have teams of doctors monitoring her situation. She added that she’s just finished another treatment that appears to have gone well and she is “happily married and feeling very good.”
“It’s been kind of a miracle looking back at how it all went down.”