'Dawson's Creek' Writer's Husband Finds Love with Long COVID Activist After Wife's Tragic Suicide

Nick Güthe says Survivor Corps founder Diana Berrent gave him a “safe harbor” to grieve in the weeks and months after Heidi Ferrer’s death. Now they’re engaged

How Dawson’s Creek Writer’s Husband Found Love with Long COVID Activist After Wife’s Tragic Suicide
Diana Berrent and Nick Güthe. Photo: Diana Berrent

Over lunch one May afternoon in Venice, California, Diana Berrent nuzzles her face into her fiancé Nick Güthe's shoulder as he rests his cheek on the top of her head.

It's hard to believe, but just a year ago, the 52-year-old filmmaker was reeling from the death of his wife, Heidi Ferrer. As she struggled with the ways long-haul COVID-19 ravaged her body, the former Dawson's Creek screenwriter killed herself. She was just 50.

In the immediate aftermath, one of the people Nick leaned on for support was Diana, a 48-year-old mother of two and the founder of Survivor Corps, a COVID support and advocacy group.

"I believe that Heidi led me to her," Nick tells PEOPLE of their remarkable romance, born out of grief, tragedy and loss. "It seems like a strange thing to say, but the way that everything happened was so extreme, so violent, so beyond what I would ever wish on my worst enemy, to have to go through what I went through, what my son went through."

NEW YORK - MAY 01: Director Nick Guthe and Heidi Ferrer attends the premiere of "Mini's First Time" during the 5th Annual Tribeca Film Festival on May 1, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for TFF)
A 2006 photo of Nick Güthe and his late wife Heidi Ferrer, who died of suicide in May 2021 after suffering devastating long-haul COVID symptoms. Bryan Bedder/Getty

For months before her death in May 2021, Ferrer was battling devastating long COVID symptoms, Nick recalls. An avid reader who loved daily walks on the beach, she struggled to retain information, while neuropathy-like stinging in her feet made exercise unbearable. She barely slept two hours a night due to random internal tremors that startled her awake. She had gastrointestinal issues, and food was so difficult to digest that her weight plummeted.

With the toll mounting, Ferrer had gone from a bubbly, positive person to someone who feared she was a burden on her husband of 20 years and their son Bexon, then 13.

"In the last few weeks," Nick says, "she was really worried that there was only one trajectory, and it was ending up in a wheelchair, unable to bathe herself, unable to do anything."

After news of Ferrer's death broke, Diana tweeted about the sad loss of the Survivor Corps member. A grief-stricken Nick reached out to her via direct message, and soon they connected by phone.

What followed were hours of conversations, which stretched into weeks, months, advocacy work and a beautiful yet bittersweet romance that evolved as they fought to save the lives of other long COVID sufferers.

But during that first telephone call from California, Nick peppered then-New York-based Diana with questions. The main one being, "What did I miss?"

"I was still backward focused about what could I have done differently," he says. "What treatments did I not get [Heidi]? What therapeutics?" Diana gently explained that there wasn't much he could have done to relieve his wife's symptoms. "Nothing. There's nothing out there. You didn't miss anything," she remembers saying.

They both agreed there was one thing he could do now: honor a request Ferrer made three weeks before she died. "She said to me, 'If I don't make it, let the world know what long COVID does to people,'" Nick remembers.

It's a vow that Diana — already adept at connecting journalists with people impacted by COVID-19 — was more than able to help him fulfill. "I can get you on every media outlet in the world if you're willing to speak," Diana remembers telling Nick. "But you're going through a lot. I don't know what you have in you to do this."

The former photographer, who was then based on Long Island, says he told her, "I'll tell you when it's enough."

"Within those first few days, I got him back on CNN, [he] did NPR, a million different things," she says. "From the beginning, we started talking on the phone a lot."

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Their chats became daily, morphing into three, four hours at a time. At first, they spoke about Ferrer and her symptoms, science and what they knew about long COVID thus far. His long drives between Los Angeles and Ojai, California — where he and Bex were temporarily staying with his mother while they tried to rebuild their lives — gave them ample opportunity to chat. "In those early days, she gave me a safe harbor for my grief," Nick says of Diana.

The connection grew deeper when they met in person: "She gave me permission to be as vulnerable as I've ever been in front of another human being," he says. "I learned I could trust her with my innermost feelings."

How Dawson’s Creek Writer’s Husband Found Love with Long COVID Activist After Wife’s Tragic Suicide
Nick Güthe and Survivor Corps founder Diana Berrent have fallen in love. Diana Berrent

That summer, on the other end of the phone, Diana was coping with loss of her own. She and her then-husband had relocated to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with their two children, Zelda and Spencer, then 14 and 12, respectively. The marriage was petering out. Meanwhile, back in New York, her mother was in the final stages of terminal cancer. Determined to die on her own terms, the matriarch stopped eating and drinking.

Nick offered support to Diana while she spent last summer in her childhood home, caring for her mother. She says of their phone calls, "I was really taken by how emotionally honest he was. It was like finding water in the desert; someone who listened as intently and carefully as he spoke."

They first met during a quick trip to Los Angeles that she made to see an old family friend. But their relationship really took a romantic turn that August, when Nick flew out to New York to attend a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to honor COVID victims. "I gave a speech. Nick gave a speech. [It was] a really intense day. Then the two of us went out to dinner in the East Village," Diana says.

She walked him back to his hotel before she headed home to her mom. Then they kissed. By October they were officially a couple.

The native New Yorkers have much in common — more than their advocacy work, which includes attending National Institutes of Health meetings, contributing to Yale University research and highlighting the suicide rates among long-haul COVID patients.

"I sat down with his mom and within five minutes [discovered] she knew the parents of my best friend from middle school," Diana says, recalling her first meeting with her future mother-in-law. "Our parents were about the same age and sort of moved in the same kind of [circles]."

How Dawson’s Creek Writer’s Husband Found Love with Long COVID Activist After Wife’s Tragic Suicide
Diana Berrent and Nick Güthe will marry in California in November. Diana Berrent

Nick loves the way Diana engages with his son Bex and how she's taken time to get to learn about his late wife. "She has read virtually every blog post Heidi ever wrote," he says. "Heidi wrote a [not yet published] memoir and Diana read it. She has watched every video that Heidi put on YouTube. She wanted to know her and understand her…"

Diana also encouraged Bex and Nick to put photos of Ferrer up in their new home. "She needs to be here," he remembers her saying.

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By November, when the duo got matching lightning bolt tattoos during one of Diana's trips to Los Angeles, they knew they wanted to get married. The wedding is set for Nov. 12 in California. Until the three children between them all graduate from high school, their marriage will be bicoastal.

How Dawson’s Creek Writer’s Husband Found Love with Long COVID Activist After Wife’s Tragic Suicide
Nick Güthe and Diana Berrent show off their matching tattoos. Diana Berrent

Reflecting on how their love story unfolded, Nick says, "A wonderful thing happened during those days and weeks. I came to see that [Diana] loved me for exactly who I was. And I came to love her for exactly who she was: Daring, passionate and yet tenderly affectionate.

"She gave me permission to feel real happiness and joy again," he adds. "And when you can feel joy and happiness, enthusiasm returns. And when enthusiasm returns, your world begins to expand, your expectations for what is possible increase. She increased my expectations for what the rest of my life could be."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments.

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