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A Wedding Delayed Comes True at Duke Hospital

DURHAM, NC -- Nurses and nursing assistants on the 4300 unit of Duke University Hospital (DUH) led the charge in living Duke University Health System's core value – "Caring for our patients, their loved ones, and each other" – when they learned that kidney disease had repeatedly forced a familiar patient to postpone her September wedding.

On short notice, the 4300 nursing staff planned a wedding for patient Heidi Fisk and her longtime boyfriend Jerremie Duncan, devoting their own time and money to help get decorations, food, drink, and a cake. Brenda Radford, DUH director of Guest Services, helped find a location on the plaza outside the Duke Medicine Pavilion, and arranged for Jim Rawlings, DMin, director of DUH Pastoral Services, to officiate at the ceremony. William Dawson, artist-in-residence with the Arts & Health at Duke program, performed during the event.

Everything came together on the afternoon of Sept. 13, when Fisk, 24, and Duncan, 25, were married. Fisk, from Danville, Va., has spent most of the past year at DUH. With friends and family on hand, she was able to stand for the 20-minute ceremony and dance the first dance.

"I loved seeing all of the hard work and dedication to our patient pay off," said Kaitlyn Appel, RN, who was involved in arranging the wedding. "The ceremony and reception were beautiful and all of the pieces just fell into place. To me, this just shows that people working in healthcare do it because they genuinely want to help others whether it be physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, you name it. People have asked me if I would help do something like this again. Yes, I would. Because all of the stress and lack of sleep leading up to it are totally worth making someone else's day a little brighter, even just for a moment. That's what nursing is." 

"During the ceremony, I stood to the side and watched," said Vonda Capps, RN, MSN, Nurse Manager of Operations on 4300. "The wedding was everything Heidi wanted it to be. I noticed my staff sitting side by side, glowing along with Heidi. I thought to myself there's nothing they can't do! I am inspired by and incredibly proud of my staff. They were motivated simply by their goodness and kindness. Through their caring, empathy, patient-centered care, and advocacy, this amazing group of professionals exemplified Duke Nursing."

The idea of holding the wedding at DUH emerged on Sept. 2 in a conversation involving Fisk and members of the nursing staff. After confirming that it was something they could do, they drew up a list of things that needed to be done. 

Numerous people signed up for the various tasks and contributed food and decorations. Among them were Cassie Poplin, CNA, and her daughter, who helped with Fisk's hair, nails, and makeup. Denise Rush-Baptiste, CNA, and Allison Strickland, RN, provided two bouquets for Fisk. Lauren Wilkins, RN, brought the cake, baked by Emily Gardner, an RN on 6300, and cupcakes. Kailey Perez, RN, and Samantha Goodson, RN, helped with the setup and cleanup of the wedding. Appel contacted friends and borrowed wedding gowns, which she brought for Fisk to try on and choose from. She also coordinated food and decorations, set up and cleaned up before and after the ceremony, and worked with the chaplain to get the marriage license (a challenge complicated by the couple's out-of-state residency and lack of documents North Carolina counties would accept). Multiple people from the 4300 unit provided food and drinks even though they knew they would not be able to attend the ceremony.

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