Here comes the bride – at Anne Arundel Medical Center

Here comes the bride – at Anne Arundel Medical Center

 By Wendi Winters, for The Capital 

Published 11/07/10 – reprinted with permission

The bride wore an elegant strapless gown and a radiant smile. The nervous groom was impeccable in his spotless Air Force dress uniform and a TV-sized heart monitor.

Maj. Jonathan Richter, 48, was supposed to marry Bathsheba “Sheba” Phillips, 50, at twilight yesterday at the Annapolis Yacht Club. Instead, the ceremony took place in a corridor of the Critical Care Unit at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Richter, a veteran of Desert Storm and a 1980 graduate of Severna Park High School, was a patient at the hospital. And so was his mother.

“We’ve never had a wedding here,” said Michelle Donovan, director of the Critical Care Unit, who quickly coordinated a wedding party complete with a minister, cake, flowers, a printed lace runner and dozens of chairs lined up in an open alcove normally used as a family lounge.

“The wedding must go on,” senior nursing director Ann Marie Pessagno said as she arranged the chairs for the ceremony that almost wasn’t.

Late Wednesday evening, Richter’s father, Henry “Hal” Richter, 78, discovered his wife had suffered a stroke in their home in the Martin’s Cove Farm community. She had been out earlier in the day purchasing last-minute items for the ceremony with her son and his bride-to-be. One hundred five guests were expected to witness Richter’s first marriage and Phillips’ second. Many out-of-town guests already were en route from Florida, Washington state, West Virginia and New York.

The Naval Academy fire department responded within minutes, revived Richter’s mother and whisked her in an ambulance to Anne Arundel Medical Center. Richter joined his father and family members at the hospital’s emergency room waiting area.

While his mother was being examined in AAMC’s Stroke Center, Richter admitted to Phillips that he was experiencing severe chest pains. Quickly, the staff evaluated him and whisked him away to the Critical Care Unit.

He was having a heart attack.

Soon after, Richter was on an operating room table. AAMC doctors performed an emergency angioplasty to clear out a clogged artery and inserted a stent to keep the artery open.

When he came out of surgery, he was “worried about mom and her status. The wedding was secondary,” Richter said.

Change of plans

Word quickly spread among the nurses at the ward that the planned nuptials were canceled. Richter’s doctors were not planning to release him from the hospital for several days. He would miss his own wedding.

But on Thursday morning, Richter recalled, “a nurse popped her head into my hospital room. ‘How about having the wedding here?’ she asked me. I told her I wanted to talk to Sheba. Their plans started Thursday afternoon, picked up steam on Friday and turned into a perfect storm today.”

“No, I’m not!” was Phillips’ initial response when she first heard of the plans. But she thought it over for a bit, and eventually agreed to the unusual ceremony.

Meanwhile, some guests were getting the word while on layovers in the Atlanta airport.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Lara Guther of Pensacola, Fla. “Our phones were off while we were flying. I got a call and tried to alert the others who were in the airport.”

Undaunted, the friends continued their journey to Annapolis.

They learned Friday the ceremony was on, but in a different spot.

“It’s not the big yacht club wedding, but everyone important to them is here,” Guther said. “He got to dress up, not in a hospital outfit, and his mother is here. Come hell or high water – No! Come hospital or high water – we had the wedding.”

“Sheba is a wonderful girl. A perfect match, a perfect fit for him,” said Amy Kane of Arnold, who, with her Navy husband, first met Richter in Pensacola 19 years ago. “She’s in it for the haul after this.”

Richter’s convalescent leave will take the place of a honeymoon. He plans to head to Florida, pack up Phillips’ belongings and move her to his new post in Clovis, N.M. “In the spring, we’ll go down to the Caribbean,” he said.

‘Bump in the road’

At 4:15 p.m. yesterday, Michael Brown, owner of Cakes and Confections in Annapolis, wheeled in a two-tiered carrot cake with cream filling and a rose-covered vanilla sheet cake with raspberry filling. “I was in the middle of making a bigger cake for a hundred people when the incident happened. They called and canceled it,” Brown said. “Then, they called and asked for a cake for 30 people.” He was happy to help out.

Contacted by the nurses-turned-wedding-planners, Flowers by Donna donated several vases filled with irises and gerbera daisy bouquets for the bride; her daughter and maid of honor, April Phillips; and the flower girl, Sheba’s 6-year-old niece, Fiona Rodriguez.

Richter looked dashing in his uniform, though several color-coded monitor wires were taped to his left hand and more wires led to a portable cardiac heart monitor.

“I feel better than I did two nights ago,” Richter said. “This is a bump in the road.”

His best man, Jim Fishback, general manager of McGarvey’s Saloon, adjusted one epaulet, while his nurse, Ruth Burall, tugged on the other side. Holding the monitor, she would trail Richter throughout the evening as a novel addition to the wedding party. Burall rarely let her eyes stray from the monitor’s screen.

College friend Tim Manning of Reston, Va., dropped into the room, followed by the Rev. Nancy Lincoln Reynolds, associate pastor of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, and church elder Betty Butler.

Husband and wife

Seven minutes before the ceremony began, Richter and his entourage headed for a corner of the lounge. As he faced the audience, filled with teary-eyed friends and family, he glanced over at his mother, semi-reclined in a lounge chair. His eyes grew moist.

“Unbelievable,” he exclaimed.

“This is the event of the century,” murmured a guest.

“Thank you all for being here,” Richter said. “It’s not the best of circumstances and not as planned at the yacht club, but we’re making it happen.”

Thanking the hospital staff, he said: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

A few minutes later, the maid of honor trod the lace-printed runner, followed by the flower girl. Phillips and her escort, brother Greg Rodriguez, slowly moved down the corridor. The bride was radiant.

“I can’t imagine what the Annapolis Yacht Club has over the ICU,” quipped the minister, commencing the ceremony. “I’m impressed you have chosen to go ahead with the ceremony. Place doesn’t matter.”

After the couple exchanged vows, the minister said to them: “John and Sheba, you are now married by the laws of this state, Christ’s holy church and this hospital.” The audience cheered.

“It’s not about where you get married, it’s who you married and what’s in your heart,” Fishback said.

Holding a glass of champagne, newlywed Richter asked Burall, “OK if I drink this?” She smiled and nodded yes.

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