It was the moment I had dreamt of my whole life: walking down the aisle in my beautiful white beaded gown in front of friends and family to marry the man of my dreams.
For 18 months I had agonised over every single detail. From our beautiful country club venue in Naples, Florida, in the US, to the delicate blooms in my gerbera daisy bouquet, I wanted everything to be perfect. And on that day, March 23, 2013, it was exactly that.
Or at least that’s what my husband and high school sweetheart Cody, 27, and our 100 guests tell me. The problem is, after spending nearly two years planning my dream wedding, I can’t remember a single detail from the actual day.
On our first night as husband and wife, Cody and I stayed in the honeymoon suite and we said, “I love you,” before going to bed. At 3.30am I woke up complaining that I had a sharp pain shooting down my left arm, but since I always lay on my left side we brushed it off, thinking that I’d just slept on it funnily.
But a few hours later, just before sunrise, Cody woke up to me gasping for air.
My body was lifeless, and my face totally pale. I’d passed out cold. Cody tried desperately to wake me up, but when I didn’t respond, he called for an ambulance.
“My wife is unconscious,” he told the operator. “We only just got married a few hours ago and now she’s not breathing.”
I can’t begin to imagine what was going through his mind. In Cody’s shoes I would have been a wreck. But he sprung into action.
Scooping me off the bed and gently lying me on the floor, he followed the operator’s instructions to administer CPR.
Thankfully he’s a policeman and learnt first aid years before, but I guess he just never expected one of his patients to be me.
Cody was able to breathe for me for a little while, but by the time help arrived a few minutes later I had no pulse. I’d suffered a cardiac arrest and my heart had completely stopped beating. Technically, I was dead.
But thanks to Cody coming to my rescue – temporarily breathing for me and pumping my heart – there was still hope.
On arrival at the local hospital I was taken straight to the intensive care unit as Cody waited anxiously by my side, with both of our parents and my maid of honour joining him a little later.
Just the day before they’d seen me as a blushing bride, now I was laid out unconscious in a hospital bed, fighting for my life.
Eventually, four days, later I woke up to find Cody by my bed, holding my hand. “Honey, you’re awake!” he exclaimed.
I smiled at him. But as I took in my surroundings I began to panic.
The breathing machines and tubes... I instinctively knew I was in the hospital, but why? “Was I in a car accident?” I asked Cody. I didn’t have a clue what had happened. “No, you weren’t in a car accident. You’re OK,” he soothed.
“You had a minor heart attack and you’ve been in a coma,” Cody told me, holding back his tears.
“I’m just so happy you’re OK,” he added, squeezing my hand.
He explained doctors had warned that if I woke up at all I could have permanent brain damage.
Brain damage? Heart attack? I’d never felt so confused. At 26 years old with a clean bill of health, I was active and didn’t smoke.
It turned out I’d suffered from a rare condition called Broken Heart Syndrome (BHS), which apparently affects only one in a million people and typically occurs in women who are 50 years or older. Not in their mid-twenties like me!
Unlike a full-on heart attack that can cause permanent heart damage, blockage in the arteries and even death, BHS is treatable.
It happens when the heart’s normal pumping function is temporarily disrupted – triggered by stress.
“It is common after the death of a loved one,” a doctor explained.
I shook my head. Thank goodness that didn’t apply to me. My heart was anything but broken. I’d just married the man of my dreams!
I had changed jobs, but I had no idea my stress levels were so high.
As I tried to digest it all, I looked down at Cody’s hand resting gently on mine and gasped.
“What’s that on your finger?” I blurted out. “Are you wearing a wedding ring?”
“We got married last week,” he said, deflated. “Don’t you remember?” I had no recollection. I couldn’t remember the most important day of my life!
Of course I remembered Cody and I knew he was my fiancé and we’d met at high school. I remembered how Cody had proposed, just 11 months after we got together, on June 3, 2011 on a sandy beach.
He’d etched “Will you Marry Me?” into a big rock. I was shocked and so emotional.
The last thing I remembered was my bachelorette party, just two days before the wedding.
We all went out for dinner and excitedly talked about my big day. That’s the last thing I remembered.
I just but I couldn’t remember walking down the aisle or saying “I do”.
Cody told me I had cried during our wedding vows and was overcome with emotion when we were finally pronounced husband and wife.
I had absolutely no memory of our first dance together to our song Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts, cutting our three-tier wedding cake or even our first night as husband and wife.
I hung on to every detail Cody recalled, but not a single part of it felt familiar to me. It was like he was talking about someone else.
Now I felt heartbroken.
For Cody it must have been devastating. It was just as special a day for him as it was for me. But the more I tried to remember, the more upset I got.
At one point I became so emotional I almost forgot to breathe.
“It’s a miracle you’re even alive,” Cody said, as I cried, feeling totally bereft. “You need to stay calm,” he added. “The doctors say any extra stress on your heart could cause a repeat attack.”
If stress had caused my heart to stop working I didn’t understand why: This happened on the most exciting day of my life. It made no sense.
But tests showed I’d suffered a cardiac arrest because of stress. With planning a wedding and changing jobs at the same time, my body couldn’t physically handle the pressure.
Cody tried to keep me calm and focus on enjoying our future together, not on what had been.
“We’re here together now and that’s all that counts,” he said.
He was right. And as the days passed I made a quick recovery, with visits from friends and family keeping my spirits up. It was a blessing my short-term memory loss was short term, brought on by shock.
I remembered all my loved ones, my life before in Bonita Springs, Florida, and my job in the medical field. And I had no permanent brain damage.
But the sudden nature of the attack scared me. Could this happen again?
“It is possible,” the doctor said, so the medical staff took precautions.
I was fitted with a permanent internal defibrillator, which I’ll have for the rest of my life. It’s similar to a pacemaker in that it gets my heartbeat to keep a normal rhythm.
Another doctor explained, “If for some reason your heart slows down or speeds up, the generator will send an electrical signal to your heart to help regulate the pace.”
Within a day or so I’d forgotten it was even there.
And two weeks later Cody and I were happy to finally return home as husband and wife.
But still to this day my memory of my wedding and even the days leading up to it are all a blur.
Even after my friends showed me pictures and videos of Cody and I exchanging vows and kisses I felt numb. Seeing the images of everyone smiling, I was happy to know it was such a beautiful day. But looking at those photos was like being an outsider looking in.
And when our photographer shared our wedding photos a month later I went through the heartache all over again.
“You were such a beautiful bride,” our photographer, Brooke, told me.
For Cody it was reflecting on fond memories, but for me it was like seeing our wedding for the very first time. It was all new to me.
My doctors had already told me my short-term memory would never return. I had to face facts. I popped the album in a drawer and asked my friends to stop sharing pictures.
It was too painful. I had to just accept that, to me, that day didn’t happen. Instead, I focused on enjoying my marriage and being thankful to my hero husband for saving my life.
But moving on was hard. I still had a void I couldn’t fill.
That’s when Cody sat me down and said, “I want you to remember our wedding day just as I remember it.” If only, I thought. “Why don’t we do it again,” he said. “That way you will remember it.”
Amazing! I felt so lucky to be offered an opportunity to relive our special day. Only this time, Cody and I vowed to keep the wedding stress free and simple.
We set a date, February 1, 2014, and sent a casual email to all of our closest friends and family inviting them to our wedding redo.
I asked my bridesmaids to wear their original orange dresses again and Cody’s groomsmen wore their signature pomegranate ties. Incredibly, after learning about my memory lapse, all of our vendors donated their services for free including our country club venue, flowers and original wedding cake design and, of course, my original dress.
I felt so honoured by everyone’s generosity. Only 45 of our 100 guests could make it a second time, but the whole day was as magical as I had imagined it would be.
Of course it still makes me sad that I can’t remember my original wedding day. I’ll never get those special moments back. Of all the days to forget!
But most importantly I’m here and enjoying life with my wonderful husband. We have plenty of time to make new memories together.