A Valentine’s Day wedding in the NICU, months in the making
February 14, 2022
A Valentine’s Day wedding in the NICU, months in the making

    A Valentine’s Day wedding in the CHoR NICU

    Little Amanda “Mandy” Dickens has been calling the shots since the moment her parents found out she was on the way. Though their path has taken some unexpected turns, her mom and dad have finally been able to say their wedding vows – where else, but in Mandy’s NICU room at CHoR.

    Tracey Leonard and Adrian Dickens originally intended to get married on December 17. All the planning and details were complete for their ceremonious wedding, until they both came down with COVID just days prior.

    At that point, they decided they’d simply go to the courthouse on December 30 when their COVID isolation was over. But their plans were foiled again when Tracey went into labor that day – four months early.

    Mandy’s grand – and unexpected – entrance into the world

    Tracey knew there was a possibility of having a pre-term birth, but no one expected it to happen as early as it did. Mandy surprised everyone when she was born at 5:22 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at VCU Medical Center.

    Dr. Guthrie, one of the fellow doctors, explained to us that the journey ahead would be like a roller coaster and he was exactly right. Some days we get good news all day long. Some days we get bad news,” said Tracey. “But everyone at the hospital has been a Godsend. They’re so sweet, understanding and amazing, not only addressing all of Mandy’s needs but mine and her dad’s as well.”

    Mandy has been in the NICU since birth and Tracey and Adrian have gotten to know the doctors, nurses and other team members quite well during their daily visits.

    “The thing I enjoy most about working with this family is the positive attitude they have every day. When you have a child in the NICU, whether it is for one day or 100, it’s never easy,” said Mandy’s primary nurse, Andrea Cataldo.

    They combine this positivity with undivided attention on the best interests of their daughter.

    “Their commitment to Amanda’s success in the NICU is demonstrated by their daily presence in the unit to make sure they are up to date with her care and truly understand as much as possible what goes on with her on a day-to-day basis,” said Dr. Nayef Chahin, one of Mandy’s neonatologists. “They always make it a point to tease out what else they can do to help Amanda during this vulnerable time in her life.”

    Because Mandy was born at just 24 weeks (a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks), she faces some unique challenges as she’s still developing and trying to achieve healthy growth outside the womb. She spends most of her time in an incubator and relies on the technology and expertise in our NICU. With Mandy now as their primary focus, Tracey and Adrian still hoped to get married sooner than later.

    A wedding at last

    “We wanted Mandy to be there, so we were joking with Cassi (social worker in the NICU) that we should have someone marry us over her incubator,” said Tracey.

    While they may have been kidding, Cassi took it to heart and set to work.

    “They have created such a loving and joyful environment for their little girl already,” said Cassi. “I was really moved when they told me all they really wanted at this point was to just get married and have their daughter be present. They had been through so many hurdles with their wedding thus far I wanted them to finally have their moment to celebrate and hopefully make one thing a little easier for them.”

    Cassi’s first stop was with Josh Andrzejewski, one of the hospital chaplains, who agreed to officiate the ceremony. They first considered January 31 since it was Mandy’s one-month birthday, but that didn’t allow quite enough time to get all the pieces in place.

    “Then we looked at each other and said, ‘What about Valentine’s Day?’ We love each other and we love Mandy. Let’s do it on the day of love,” said Tracey. 

    With the date decided, Cassi then worked with Dayna from RMHC who graciously donated her time to making the day even more memorable for the family, including securing flowers, balloons and a small cake. On February 14, 2022, Tracey and Adrian were finally able to say “I do” in a simply decorated hospital room, with family on FaceTime and their daughter by their side.

    A celebration of love with baby leading the way

    Relatives couldn’t attend the wedding due to COVID visitation restrictions in the hospital, but they’ll celebrate with the happy family once Mandy gets to come home. It won’t be the elaborate event that was originally planned though.

    “Having Mandy just refocused us on the small things, what’s most important. When Mandy is home and we have a new normal, we’re going to get a beach house and invite our immediate families – nothing big and showy. We have a new focus,” said Tracey.

    Mandy is the first child for Tracey and Adrian, but she has a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins who are ready to meet her. Everyone has come to realize, though, that it will happen on Mandy’s schedule.

    “I like to be in control and have things planned out,” added Tracey. “Everything that has happened has completely caught me, her father and our families off guard. Mandy is bossy and feisty. We just go with what she’s doing and what she says. She is in control.”

    Dr. Chahin agrees.

    “Infants born at or around 24 weeks of gestation spend an average of 123 days, or roughly 4 months, in the NICU. Some are able to go home earlier than that and some end up staying longer. I hope with the way Amanda has been progressing and her parents’ continuous involvement, she can join them at home sooner rather than later, but at this point Amanda is driving the bus and she will let us know when she’s ready,” he said.

    Amidst all this excitement, Tracey has also been able to continue her work toward a graduate degree in clinical social work, which she will complete on time this spring.

    A joyful experience for all

    We’ve cared for infants and preemies in our NICU for 50 years, but this was our first wedding!

    “It’s been really nice to help with something so positive during a time that’s been really challenging for families. The excitement of having a wedding on the unit has brought a lot of joy to the team too, which is something we could all use right now,” added Cassi.

    Watch the wedding in the NICU

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