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Hospital wedding has a different ring to it

With the bride's father bedridden and the groom bound soon for Afghanistan, an ICU room at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center serves as the chapel.

September 13, 2009|Martha Groves

The bride wasn't the only one wearing a gown.

An intensive care unit at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was the scene Saturday morning of a wedding designed around the bride's bedridden father, hospitalized since early July with a rare neuromuscular disorder.

When Janette Villalobos, 20, realized that her father, Johnny, would not be able to attend her planned backyard wedding and barbecue in San Dimas, she and fiance Michael Arroyo decided to take the nuptials to him. They felt some urgency because Arroyo, 26, a Navy corpsman stationed in Twentynine Palms, is scheduled to leave Oct. 6 for a 14-month deployment in Afghanistan.

The hospital's patient-affairs staff arranged for bride and bridegroom and a few friends and family members to crowd into the antiseptic room where Johnny Villalobos, 47, has been recovering from the removal of his thymus gland, a treatment that doctors hope will alleviate muscle weakness and other symptoms of myasthenia gravis.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Hospital wedding: An article in Sunday's California section about a wedding at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center quoted Louise Villalpando, the hospital's manager of patient affairs, as saying the wedding was the first in the intensive care unit since the hospital opened last year. She and other hospital staff members now say they were unaware that a couple were married in the ICU on Sept. 5 so the bride's father, a liver transplant patient, could participate.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 20, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
Hospital wedding: An article in the Sept. 13 California section about a wedding at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center quoted Louise Villalpando, the hospital's manager of patient affairs, as saying the wedding was the first in the intensive care unit since the hospital opened last year. She and other hospital staff members now say they were unaware that a couple were married in the ICU on Sept. 5 so the bride's father, a liver transplant patient, could participate.

All participants, including the bride, donned disposable yellow hospital gowns over their wedding finery. They also wore blue protective gloves to avoid infecting the patient, who is breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

"This is the most unusual wedding setting I've ever had," said Dave Rader, Brea Baptist Church pastor, who conducted the ceremony.

The intensive care room was certainly a far cry from A Hollywood Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, where the couple briefly considered tying the knot before Janette concluded that she did not want her father to miss the moment.

"I'd be heartbroken if my dad didn't see it," she said. "I'm the baby girl."

After a busy morning of prepping, the couple and their entourage arrived at the hospital about 10:40 a.m.

The bridegroom wore dress Navy blues, adorned with three medals, including one for serving in Iraq.

The bride sported a purple tank top, black shorts, a thin strand of pearls and pink flip-flops, her dark hair pulled back into a curly bun adorned by faux flowers and a veil. Since real flowers would not be allowed in the room, a nurse had cut boutonnieres for the men from yellow, purple, pink and green construction paper.

The bride greeted her father, then headed off with her mother, Robin, and a family friend to a hospital ladies room to change into her white bridal dress, a silky, tiered, knee-length number with spaghetti straps.

She carried a nosegay of faux white roses and a white handkerchief, a gift from Maria Morales, Arroyo's mother, who had flown in from her Connecticut home with her husband, Andre Veillette.

"I've raised Mike since he was 2 years old," Veillette said proudly.

When the bride, already dabbing at tears, entered the room, Arroyo said: "Oh, wow." Known for her humorous bent, the bride turned to two girlfriends and said, "I used waterproof [mascara], right?"

Guest Bill Lowder stood next to Johnny Villalobos' bed, surrounded by booms and monitors and IV bags, and read comments that his longtime friend had written. "My daughter means the world to me. . . . She's funny and smart and beautiful. Mike is the right one for her. I hope her life will be as blessed as she has made mine. . . . Today I'm the proudest dad in the world."

His daughter leaned over to kiss him. Lowder's wife, Dawn, who years ago was the bride's Sunday school teacher, took photographs from the doorway.

Rader then led the group in a prayer, which was interrupted by an alarm. Nurse Rosella Dolan quickly donned a gown, touched a computer screen next to the patient's bed and silenced the unwelcome intrusion.

From 1 Corinthians, Rader recited, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. . . ."

After the bride and groom repeated their vows in voices strong and steady, the bride's nephew, 6-year-old Austin Smith, lifted a small white pillow bearing their matching gold-and-diamond wedding bands. With a nurse's permission, the couple briefly removed their left gloves so they could slide the rings onto each other's fingers.

Rader pronounced them husband and wife, and Arroyo proclaimed: "I would love to kiss the bride," which he did, tenderly and repeatedly.

After that, it was hugs all around and time to pose for dozens of photos in the hallway outside the room. Austin looked a bit like Buster Brown in Arroyo's "Dixie cup" sailor's cap. Janette's brother Johnny Ray, 16, declared his broad-shouldered brother-in-law, who played football in high school and college, to be "freakin' awesome."

Louise Villalpando, the hospital's manager of patient affairs, called the wedding -- the first in the ICU since the hospital opened last year -- a great success.

The father of the bride looked on wearily from his bed, tears of joy glistening on his cheeks.

To the couple, the union seemed preordained. When they met at a San Bernardino nightspot last October, Arroyo was drawn to the anchor necklace that Villalobos wore. "Do you know anyone in the Navy?" he asked. "No, I just like anchors," she replied.

When Arroyo returns from his tour of duty, the couple plan to hold a big, traditional ceremony. "My father," said Janette Villalobos Arroyo, who hopes to become a Los Angeles police officer, "is going to walk me down the aisle."

--

martha.groves@latimes.com

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