A terminally-ill teen fulfilled her dream to marry her childhood sweetheart in a deeply emotional hospital bed ceremony, just three days before she died.
Cancer-stricken Nina Marino, 19, tied the knot with Joey Williams, 21, on September 3 in the ICU of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital,
The teen, of Clearwater, Florida, was diagnosed with undifferentiated sarcoma in May 2017, but only began to write her bucket list when doctors discovered the disease had also spread to her only lung, which could not be cured.
Couple: Cancer-stricken Nina Marino, 19, tied the knot with Joey Williams, 21, on September 3 in the ICU of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Florida
Condition: The teen, of Clearwater, Florida, was diagnosed with undifferentiated sarcoma in May 2017. Doctors later discovered the disease had also spread to her only lung
Soulmates: Nina, of Clearwater, Florida, proposed to Joey, her best friend of 13 years and boyfriend, on August 2 in the ICU
Nina proposed to Joey, her best friend of 13 years and boyfriend, on August 2 in the ICU.
The pair had been planning an outdoor wedding, but on the morning of September 3 doctors said Nina’s condition was too severe for her to sustain the wait.
The pair wed that same day in an emotional ceremony, with the bride writing her vows in her hospital bed.
”She had told me that one of the things that she wanted to do before she passed away was to get married,’ Joey said.
‘I’m so happy that we were able to do it. We were married for two days, 15 hours and 27 minutes.’
Nina was born with only one lung and VACTERL Syndrome, a disorder that affects many bodily systems. Joey has suffered from three congenital heart defects and a chronic pain condition since birth.
Timing: The couple had been planning an outdoor wedding, but on the morning of September 3 doctors broke the news that Nina’s condition was too severe for her to sustain the wait
Tying the knot: The pair wed that same day in an emotional ceremony, with the bride writing her vows in her hospital bed
The couple met at Camp Boggy Creek, an event for sick children, when they were just eight and six years old, and found out they only lived 10 minutes away from each other.
Throughout their teens their friendship never evolved into anything romantic, but after a trip to Disney World in June 2017, something shifted between them.
‘We spent the whole day together and then that night as we were driving home we talked and we both agreed that things felt a lot different,’ Joey said.
‘We decided that we would give dating a try. After that, we never really talked about it but we were both just so happy together. It just worked out.
‘We spent 14 years getting to know each other, so by the time we started dating we already knew everything about each other.
‘She could understand everything about me — and me about her — because we both had chronic illnesses.
‘It was just really nice not to have to pretend that I wasn’t in pain around her.
‘During her first round of chemo I first came to realize just how much I loved her.’
The couple had casually discussed getting married, but one day, after Nina was rushed into ICU, Joey came into the ward to check on her and was met with a surprise proposal from Nina.
‘I walked into her room when she was sitting in bed wearing a pair of Mickey mouse ears, except they were made of wood,’ he said.
Childhood friends: The loved-up couple met at Camp Boggy Creek, an event for sick children, when they were just eight and six years old
Schedule: The couple had casually discussed getting married, but one day, after Nina was rushed into ICU, Joey came into the ward to check on her and was met with a surprise proposal
‘They were like laser-engraved in her handwriting with the words, “Will you marry me?”‘
Nina’s mother Lesley, 54, who was a full-time caretaker to her only daughter, said: ‘I was ecstatic for both Joey and Nina because I know that’s what they really wanted.
‘They wanted each other. They are each other’s companions for life.’
The two had wooden wedding rings specially crafted in Australia, so they could wear them while undergoing MRI or CT scans, during which metal jewelry is not permitted.
Nina, who underwent 163 surgeries in her lifetime, breathed through an oxygen mask as she tied the knot with Joey.
The Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, organized the last-minute ceremony in the oncology ward of St. Joseph’s Hospital.
‘We called them at 1.30 pm and told them we were going to have to get married that day, and we got married at 5.30 pm,’ Joey said.
‘They printed out a bunch of pictures and decorated the entire room, and they built an arch over her bed for us to get married under.
‘I think there were like 30 people in one room. It was insane.
‘Nina was so happy. I was so happy.’
Planning: The Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, organized the last-minute ceremony in the oncology ward of St. Joseph’s Hospital and decorated Nina’s room with pictures
Wedding day: Joey said he was ‘so happy’ when he got to tie the knot with Nina, as was she
Lesley added: ‘I think she took every ounce of any amount of energy she had left in her body to go through with it and do it.
‘She was incredibly happy because that was one of the big things that she wanted to do — to marry her best friend.’
Three days later, on the morning of September 6, newlywed Nina passed away with family and her beloved husband by her side.
Joey, who originally shared Nina’s story through Love What Matters, said: ‘I was able to look at all of the wedding photos with Nina while she was still awake. She loved them.
‘Before she passed away she wanted to go to Broadway to see Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, and she wanted to go to Australia.
‘It’s become my mission to do all of the things she didn’t get to complete on her bucket list.’
Lesley said: ‘She was buried into her wedding gown.
‘She would want everyone to remember her as an outgoing, fun, loving, and adventurous person.
‘She never let her medical issues hold her back from life.’
Joey added: ‘Her smile was always so beautiful.’
Plans: The pair had wooden wedding rings specially crafted in Australia, so they could wear them while undergoing MRI or CT scans, during which metal jewelry is banned
Support: As Joey remembers it, there were about 30 people gathered in a hospital room to watch the young couple tie the knot
Photographer Nil Patel recounted in a post for
‘At 2:45 p m on Labor Day, I got a message from a close friend about a 19-year-old bride who has cancer and was told she wouldn’t make it through the night, so they had to move her wedding day to that very day at 5:00 pm,’ he recounted.
‘Unfortunately, the original photographer was unavailable for that day, due to the last-minute change. My friend who got the original inquiry couldn’t do it and it broke his heart. While I know he would have been honored to have captured it himself, he blessed me with this opportunity.’
Nil promptly took a shower, grabbed his gear, and went to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
‘Everyone was full of life, smiling, laughing, making jokes,’ he said. ‘It was as if there wasn’t even an illness present in this equation and everyone was there to celebrate another magical love story.’
After Nina’s passing, Joey wrote a moving tribute to his wife. He shared on the Facebook page
Together: Joey has suffered from three congenital heart defects and a chronic pain condition since birth. He and Nina supported each other through their respective illnesses
Adventures: Joey and Nina created a Facebook page called The Chronic Travelers to document all their happy times together
Love: Joey and Nina started dating after a trip to Disney World, and Joey wrote a tribute to Nina that they went to Disney ‘an absolutely insane amount of times’
‘We’ve gone on so many amazing adventures together, and I’ve done things that I never in a million years could’ve seen myself doing but I had the time of my life because I was with you,’ Joey
‘From always trying new food at mildly sketchy places, falling in love with sushi, jumping into a hot tub during a thunderstorm, burning a year’s worth of homework, losing your sunglasses in the ocean and finding them again, car picnics, having a picnic at the end of a runway, going to New Jersey to meet your family, having an epic paint fight and then spending hours trying to scrub the paint off of each other, cooking meals together at my apartment, going to drag shows, going to camps, going back to Boggy to fulfill our dreams of becoming counselors, going to private suites at lightning games, eating potatoes the size of your face, working with [the Children’s Cancer Center] at Wine Women & Shoes, you being on television for CCC, celebrating my 21st birthday with you in your hospital room, going all out on the matching Mickey Mouse Christmas onesies, building an indestructible gingerbread house, seeing ice at Gaylord Palms, celebrating Christmas with both of our families together, you being there for my surgery and then holding me while I recovered, painting pottery together, celebrating your birthday by just being together, ringing in the new year with our families, you tickling me to the point that I would almost pass out, getting to meet your amazing friends, jumping into hundreds of gallons of Jell-O, going to a five-star spa and resort in Arizona, going to Disney an absolutely insane amount of times, starting a Disney pin collection together, and so many other absolutely incredible memories. All of these memories that I will never forget and that make me so happy.’
He added: ‘But perhaps the most amazing memory of all is when we finally got to fulfill our dream of getting married. It may not have been what we had seen in our heads when we thought about our wedding, but it was perfect.
‘You looked so beautiful in your dress, and the way your eyes lit up when I put the ring on you finger will stay with me forever.’
Joey pledged to keep Nina in his heart forever, and to accomplish all the items left to cross out on her bucket list.
‘I just want you to know that I love you and I always will, that the past 450 days of dating you have been some of the best days of my life, and the two days, 15 hours and 23 minutes I had with you here as your husband were magical,’ he wrote.
‘I will always love you, you will always be my beautiful wife, and you will always be with me.’