It wasn’t the wedding she had envisioned, but Joan Lyall says her marriage to paralyzed Secret Service agent Garrett Fitzgerald in a Boston hospital room over the weekend was the happiest day of her life.
“We were planning a big white wedding [for March 4] with more than 200 guests at a beautiful venue on the water in Long Island,” says Lyall, who is from Malverne, New York. “That was the vision I had in my mind, but then the accident happened and my vision changed and focused solely on him and marrying the man of my dreams.”
Fitzgerald, 30, a Suffern, New York, native who lives in Boston with Lyall, 28, and their 5-year-old Newfoundland named Hunny, was working a campaign detail in New Hampshire on Dec. 29 with three other Secret Service agents when a 45-year-old unlicensed driver’s car hit their van head-on. Fitzgerald’s colleagues received non-life threatening injuries. The driver of the car that hit them was pronounced dead at the scene.
While Fitzgerald, who has been Secret Service agent based in Boston for just one year, is not assigned to Hillary Clinton, he and his colleagues were working one of her campaign details at the time of the accident.
Paralyzed from the neck down, Fitzgerald was transferred to a Boston rehabilitation center Monday and is already making progress, according to his new bride.
“He is starting to move his right arm, and his spirits are great,” Lyall, a speech pathologist, says. “The doctors can’t predict anything, so we’re just taking this one day at a time. If anyone can do this though, he can. He is determined to walk again and get back to work.”
Childhood friend and best man Rob Freed likened Fitzgerald to Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, whose determination and triumphs were told in the 1993 inspiring sports film Rudy.
“He’s not the tallest, not the fastest, but he will work harder than anybody else,” says Freed, who with co-best man Scott Ackerman created a GoFundMe page for the couple that has already raised more than $230,000. “If anybody can pull through this, he can.”
Freed was among a small group of close friends and family who attended the Jan. 9 wedding in Fitzgerald’s room in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“They are two of the most loving, hard-working people I know, and while the circumstances were not ideal, it was a very emotional, beautiful union of two people,” he tells PEOPLE.
Lyall, who has been with Fitzgerald for nine years, calls him her “rock” who inspires her every day. She says there are several special moments from their wedding day, but “dancing” to their wedding song (Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man”) during which Fitzgerald’s wheelchair was unlocked and pushed by Lyall’s brother, was definitely one.
“The invitations won’t go out [and] the dress will stay bagged up, but those things aren’t important,” Lyall says. “This was the joining of two souls at the simplest level and that’s what really matters.”