ICU ‘I do’

Published 11:04 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Married: Bill and Dawn Slaughter got married after dating for 17 years Dec. 19 at Sentara Obici Hospital, where Dawn has been staying since the beginning of the month in the Intensive Care Unit as she struggles with liver failure.

After 17 years together, Bill and Dawn Slaughter were ready to take the big step into marriage, and they wanted to make sure everything was perfect.

Bill took over all the administrative duties, volunteering to get the license and lining up a pastor for the ceremony. Dawn’s friends helped her get all dolled up for the big day.

But when the time came for the wedding, instead of Dawn walking down the aisle, Bill walked into her room in the intensive care unit at Sentara Obici Hospital and took her hand.

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The couple celebrated their marriage among friends and hospital staff just days before Christmas as Dawn lay in her hospital bed, where she has been since the beginning of the month, suffering from liver failure.

“We should’ve done this a long time ago,” Bill said. “We’ve been together for so long.”

When the couple met 17 years ago while boating, he said, “something clicked,” and they knew they were meant for each other.

“We had very similar tastes on stuff,” Bill said. “And she loves to travel.”

Bill and Dawn went out to dinner on Mother’s Day that year and have been inseparable ever since.

Both have earned a living driving trucks, a skill Bill taught Dawn, and the two have traveled the country together.

“We’ve seen a lot,” Bill said. “We’ve been to all 48 continental states.”

Their Obici wedding wasn’t the first time they had talked about marriage.

Several years ago, Dawn had her heart set on getting married at a friend’s beach home in Ocracoke, N.C., so they planned accordingly.

“We had everything planned,” he said. “We bought the ring and we got the license. The day before we were supposed to get married, a hurricane came up and messed up the island.”

After the storm canceled their nuptials, the marriage license expired, and the couple went on about life.

Earlier this year, Dawn broke her hip and found out she couldn’t work any more.

“That’s what started this downward trend,” Bill said.

Dawn got her hip repaired and was trying to file for disability payments when her liver started failing.

She landed in Obici on Dec. 8 and has been there ever since, waiting to find out if she is eligible for a transplant.

Since that time, Bill has struggled to juggle his job, life, relationship and the massive medical bills.

In the midst of the struggles, the couple decided a couple of weeks ago it was finally time to tie the knot.

“I’d been thinking about it, but didn’t say anything,” Bill said. “I didn’t want her to think I wanted to get married because of her condition. But she brought it up.”

So, the day they planned to get married, Bill hurried between the hospital and City Hall to get all the proper paperwork.

“It was a stressful day, but I did what I had to do,” he said.

While Bill was taking care of the logistics, Dawn’s best friend came in to do her hair, and several Obici employees chipped in with a new white sweater and jewelry to match.

The Obici staff also decorated her room with Christmas lights and white banners and lined up a cake with a mini bride and groom.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Dawn said. “The girls couldn’t have done a better job.”

Bill said when he got back he was shocked at the work the employees had done.

“When I came back, she looked dynamite,” he said.

Hospital chaplain Leo Whitaker performed the ceremony, and Bill was able to stand by his partner’s bedside for the first time without a blue plastic smock.

Dawn said it feels great to finally be married to the man she loves.

Now, the couple is just hoping she will get better, no matter how much it costs, so they can continue their life together.

“I can lose everything we’ve got, as long as I don’t lose her,” Bill said. “I’m hoping to have another 17 years or more.”