One New York woman was taken through a whirlwind of life-changing events in just under two hours when her boyfriend-turned-fiancé proposed and married her on the same night.
When Nicole Carfagna and Danny Rios returned home after a surprise December trip to Disney World, Nicole noticed a string of lights hanging in their backyard that wasn’t there when they left days earlier. When Nicole asked her sweetheart about the mysterious lights on their home, he simply told her there was going to be much more to see.
“I had no idea what was going on, I was trying to get our bags out of the car and he told me to leave them all,” Nicole, 32, of Smithtown, New York, tells PEOPLE of the magical night on Dec. 8. “He opened the door for me, took my hand and led me into the backyard.”
To Nicole’s surprise, Danny took her just outside of a huge tent where her family and friends had gathered. Since her birthday was just four days earlier, Nicole started to think she had walked into a surprise party—until she noticed her father in a suit and her mother in tears. Once she heard one of her favorite songs, Coldplay’s “Fix You,” playing in the background, Nicole knew it was not a birthday party.
Danny then led her inside the tent, where he got down on one knee and asked Nicole to marry him in front of their friends and family.
“I was shocked, it was the biggest surprise and the most shocked I have ever been in my life!” Nicole says of the proposal. “I started to well up and cry, and luckily my dad told me to take a breath, and take it all in. If he didn’t, I probably would have been sobbing the entire time.”
After the newly engaged couple greeted their guests and Nicole showed off her ring—she admits she was shaking the whole time—Danny took his fiancée into the house to have a private chat in their bedroom. After telling her how much he loved her while sitting on their bed, Danny then dropped one more surprise on his beloved: he told Nicole that instead of waiting for the ceremony, they could get married that night.
“I was shocked, and I was so happy. All of the shakiness went away,” Nicole recalls. “I felt like that calmed me down—I knew I was going to be marrying him.”
For six years, Nicole has had lupus, an incurable inflammatory disease that causes the immune stem to attack its own tissues. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that some 1.5 million Americans are living with the disease today, and for Nicole, her symptoms include joint pain, dizziness, fatigue and inflammation of her lungs and heart that get exacerbated with stress.
Danny knew Nicole would have had a difficult time under the pressure of planning a wedding, so he gathered all of the ingredients for a spur-of-the-moment ceremony, such as getting a suit, picking out a wedding dress with Nicole’s mother, and having his father become ordained. All Nicole had to do, for a second time that night, was say “yes.”
Instead of just saying “yes” once more, Nicole said it over and over again when Danny revealed his plan.
“I’ve missed holidays and a ton of things because I’ve been sick,” she says. “I was so happy, and I was ready to marry him. I was just happy and not nervous anymore. He gave me this incredible option, to just take all of the stress away from me and he took all the stress on himself. ”
Danny kept the secret under wraps so Nicole didn’t feel any pressure into agreeing to the ceremony that night. But now with the clock counting down, Nicole got prepared for the big night with the help of her family, who all pitched in to prepare her jewelry, shoes, makeup and hair.
But of course, there was something else that had to be decided: who was going to be her maid of honor? Fortunately, her family had taken care of that too: Nicole’s brother agreed to be her Man of Honor.
With that taken care of, all that was left was to walk down the aisle and become husband and wife.
“It was the most amazing night of my life,” Nicole says. “It was so low key, and we were just intimately surrounded by the people who care about us the most. It was perfect. It was perfect, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing for the world.”
Nicole hopes other people who are living with a disease can find inspiration in her story. She knows dating can be difficult with a disease, but they, too, can find someone who understands their situation.
“It’s scary being sick, especially being single and thinking that you might not find someone who understands it. If you have lupus or any other illness, or even if you’re single, you can have a fairy tale, and it can work out,” she says. “Just because you’re sick, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy.”