Anna Gonzales and Justin Middleton decided to marry as soon as possible after learning that Gonzales' health was rapidly declining

By Hilary Shenfeld
June 26, 2019 05:42 PM
Mike Dickbernd

Anna Gonzales, of Goshen, Indiana, has lived with cystic fibrosis all her life, and the 30-year-old knows she doesn’t have much longer to live. Still, she was determined to reach one last milestone: marriage.

Gonzales and Justin Middleton said their “I dos” on Tuesday at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis — where Gonzales has been hospitalized since June 2 — with the help of hospital staff and caregivers.

“How could we not do it?” Sarah Lieber-Hale, one of Gonzales’ social workers, tells PEOPLE. “That was the last thing she could have.”

Gonzales and Middleton, who have been together for three years and engaged for two, decided to wed as soon as possible after learning of Gonzales’ rapidly declining health, Lieber-Hale says. Realizing time was of the essence, hospital staff jumped into action and quickly made arrangements for the couple to get married in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

“There are times you can’t make the disease better but you can ask, ‘What is important to you right now?’ ” says Dr. Cynthia Brown, one of Gonzales’ doctors.

Gonzales recited her vows while sitting in a wheelchair, with her veil carefully arranged so it wouldn’t get tangled in her breathing tubes.

Justin Middleton (left) with Anna Gonzales (center), family and hospital staff
Mike Dickbernd

The couple was joined by Gonzales’ brother and nieces. The hospital’s chaplain, Staci Striegel-Stikeleather, conducted the ceremony, saying, “This may be an unconventional place for a wedding but it is often in the chaos of life where beauty emerges and blessings and joys catch us by a wonderful surprise.”

To help make the couple’s dream a reality, nurse case manager Ruth Miller spent the weekend sewing Gonzales’ wedding gown, adding thoughtful details such as brocade lace, which fit around the bride’s medical devices, Miller tells PEOPLE.

Justin Middleton and Anna Gonzales (center) with hospital staff
Mike Dickbernd

On the day of the nuptials, a group of hospital staff dressed in yellow medical gowns and gloves. They decorated the room with paper flowers, battery-operated candles, balloons and artificial flowers. They even brought in a cake, cookies, sparkling apple juice and gifts. The hospital’s music therapist played the piano.

Lieber-Hale says she was “incredibly grateful to be part of it.” Since Gonzales’ medical debt would have been overwhelming for Middleton, the couple did not get legally married, Lieber-Hale adds.

Gonzales was diagnosed as an infant with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder affecting the lungs and causes mucus to become thick and sticky, making it very difficult to breathe, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Average life expectancy is about 37-years-old.

Anna Gonzales (bottom) with hospital employee
Mike Dickbernd

Middleton said on Tuesday that he rushed to the hospital when he got word that Gonzales’s time was limited.

“They told me I needed to get here and that she was at the end of life,” he said.

“Once the date was set, I snuck into the hospital gift shop and bought the ring,” added Middleton, who chose a silver band with a purple stone.

Middleton wore a purple boutonniere pinned to his yellow hospital gown as he said his vows.

“These three years were the best I could have hoped for, and I’m glad I got to spend them with you,” he told Gonzales.

The day was certainly one to remember.

“Today,” Gonzales said, “I got to marry my best friend.”