With their premature daughter expecting a months-long recovery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Rubia Ferreira and Tyler Campbell decided to recite their vows with their newborn as the guest of honor.
Days after 42-year-old Ferreira began to feel strong abdominal pain while visiting her fiancé’s hometown in Jasper, Alabama, doctors at UAB diagnosed the expectant mother with HELLP syndrome, a rare condition that usually develops before the 37th week of pregnancy. HELLP can cause a series of symptoms including seizures, blurred vision and high blood pressure as the mother’s organs stop working properly, and doctors concluded that she needed an emergency C-section to save the lives of her and her baby.
“I was nervous, but she was a lot more than I, so I was trying to stay calm to make her feel better,” Campbell, 24, tells PEOPLE of when they received the startling news at the start of November last year. “I was really nervous.”
Ferreira gave birth to Kaelin Maria via C-section on November 8, 2017. Because she was born at just 24 weeks gestation, doctors expected Kaelin to remain hospitalized in UAB’s NICU for months as she recovered.
Their daughter’s unexpected birth meant the couple’s plans for a beachside wedding in Okinawa, Japan—where they met when Campbell was stationed there while in the Marines—would be placed on hold. That was until Ferreira came across a video on Facebook that showed another couple getting married in a hospital, and she thought that would be a great alternative.
“We asked our nurse liaison, and she was all about it!” Campbell recalls. “That was about two weeks before Valentine’s Day, and she thought it would be perfect if that was our wedding day.”
After much planning by nurses and staff, the couple were married by a hospital chaplain in the NICU on February 14, 2018, right next to now 5-month-old Kaelin.
“I was definitely nervous! Every nurse in the hospital was watching me, and I’m just standing there!” Campbell says while laughing. “But then you get into the moment, and you don’t worry about who is around you, and that happened to me when I saw her walking down our little makeshift aisle, which is the hallway to our daughter’s room. It was awesome. “
Ferreira was walked down the hallway by neonatologist Dr. Waldemar Carlo, as staff from the hospital looked on.
“We were very happy, the fact that our daughter could be there with us,” Campbell says. “We didn’t think we would be able to do anything in the ICU. We were really excited.”
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Ferreira says she is grateful that she was able to share the special moment with her daughter, because that is what she wanted all along.
“I’m so happy because we got married in front of Kaelin,” she says. “Everybody helped me!”
Today, Kaelin is still recovering in the NICU with pulmonary hypertension, which is caused by bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease found in premature babies.
“She is sedated right now, and doctors have to keep her asleep,” Campbell says. “She’s been like this for three days.”
Kaelin is expected to remain hospitalized for five to six more months. The new parents are keeping their sights and hopes on the day when they’ll be able to take their baby home, and on the day when they’ll be able to tell her the story of their NICU wedding that was filled with love.
“All the nurses that took care of Kailyn were there, the doctors, everyone,” Campbell says. “There were tears from one end of the hospital to the other. We’re going to tell her all about how much love was in the room at that time.”