Ashlie Vaughn experienced her worst nightmare when she learned that a fall one week before her wedding left her ankle broken in three places

By Joelle Goldstein
December 11, 2019 08:17 PM
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Ashlie Vaughn

A Chicago bride who was nearly a week away from her wedding had to overcome a major obstacle — and thanks to a special crutch, her big day went off without a hitch.

Just 11 days before Ashlie Vaughn was set to tie the knot with Li Feng, the Illinois resident was walking down the carpeted stairs in her new home when she slipped and hit her foot on the wall, leaving her with a serious injury.

“My foot just went out from underneath me,” Vaughn, 38, recalls to PEOPLE. “It happened so quickly … but immediately after I stopped falling, there was shooting pain throughout my entire right foot.”

“I’m screaming, my fiancé jumps up and runs down to check on me … and it’s literally just dangling. There’s this huge bulge sticking out on the inside of my ankle,” she continues, adding that she was convinced the bulge was her bone that hadn’t punctured the skin yet.

Vaughn’s pain was so unbearable that she ended up going to a walk-in clinic, who referred her to a specialist.

There, additional scans confirmed the worst: Vaughn’s ankle was broken in three separate places. The specialist told her that she required immediate surgery and would be in a cast for weeks following the procedure.

Ashlie Vaughn

The serious injury also meant that Vaughn would have to postpone her two-week honeymoon to Hawaii, which included a number of hiking and rainforest activities and was scheduled for after her wedding.

Of course, the news did not sit well with Vaughn, who had been preparing for her wedding day to Feng, 39, and expected to walk down the aisle beside her soon-to-be husband for years.

“I immediately started crying,” she explains to PEOPLE. “My fiancé and I have been together for about eight years so I’ve been dreaming of our wedding and planning it for so long. Finally waiting for my wedding day to be here and I find out that I’ve broken my ankle, I need surgery, and I’m going to be in a cast was heartbreaking.”

With no other options, Vaughn underwent surgery two days later on Oct. 30, when she had a plate and three screws inserted in her ankle. However, once the procedure was finished, Vaughn focused her efforts on finding a creative solution for her wedding day.

“Right after surgery, I realized, ‘What am I gonna do?’ I’m in a cast, I’m not gonna roll down the aisle on my wedding day in a wheelchair. That’s not happening,” she says. “So I immediately start searching and Googling, ‘What are other options?'”

During her internet search, the Chicago resident discovered a hands-free crutch called iWALK2.0. The innovative, award-winning design, which resembles a peg leg, allows for people with lower leg injuries to walk on their own while their injured leg rests behind them in a sling.

Ashlie Vaughn and Li Feng
Ashlie Vaughn

Even though the hands-free crutch seemed ideal, there were still some obstacles in front of Vaughn that she had to overcome — namely the crutch’s handle, which she said “stuck out three inches” and wouldn’t fit under her trumpet-style wedding gown.

“There’s no way that’s gonna work. So I call iWALKFree’s customer service and explain the situation. I’m in tears, ‘Please help me, please help me, what can you do?'” Vaughn recalls, adding that she initially planned to have her fiancé saw off the handle.

However, just five minutes later, Vaughn says the company made a “life-saving” offer to adapt the apparatus to be without a handle so that it would fit underneath her white, lace dress.

Once the hands-free crutch arrived in the mail, Vaughn had to practice walking with it — a process that she said was nerve-wracking and took some time to get used to.

“I held my breath and prayed that it would fit underneath,” she admits. “It’s very strange to use the first time, but once you get used it to it, it’s very easy to move around in.”

Ashlie Vaughn

And on top of her own injury, Vaughn also learned two days before her wedding that her father would be unable to come or walk her down the aisle after suffering complications from a double-knee surgery he had two weeks prior to her fall.

“I’m like, ‘What else is going to happen at this point? My dad’s not here to walk me down the aisle, I’ve got a broken ankle with a cast on, we’re not having a honeymoon as scheduled,” Vaughn tells PEOPLE.

Still, nothing was going to stop her from having the wedding of her dreams. By the time Nov. 8 rolled around, Vaughn was ready to go. Walking down the aisle in her gorgeous gown beside her little brother, the Chicago bride was beaming with a huge smile on her face.

The hands-free crutch also enabled Vaughn and Li to share their first dance together as husband and wife, which the bride said meant everything to her, despite not being able to do their rehearsed routine.

“We were able to do the high school lean-back-and-forth,” she jokes. “I was just extremely happy that it worked out as well as it did because those were the two most important things to me for the wedding and I’m glad I was still able to do them, even though they were a little off and a little different than what I had planned.”

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Beyond having a successful wedding day, Vaughn says the experience taught her more than she ever expected.

“Sometimes you just have to make the best of things,” she explains. “I did get a lot of compliments from people — which was sweet, but it kinda confused me a bit — that were like, ‘You did so well, you looked on the bright side, you were so positive!’ and I’m like, ‘What else was I supposed to be?'”

“I’ve got to step up, move forward and figure out what’s important to me and how can I get those objectives done with what I have,” she continues. “I’ve learned that even though you plan something to be perfect, it’s not always going to be perfect, and if it’s not perfect, it’s still okay.”

“I was so upset when I first found out about it but then I was like, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it at this point. It’s broken, I have to have a cast, let’s make the best of it,” she says, adding that ultimately, “I’m very happy with how everything turned out.”