Video: Groom gets his dying wish to marry his bride as they both battle cystic fibrosis11th Dec 18 | Weddings
Darren and Lauren raced against the clock to say 'I do' after he was told he had just weeks to live.
A winning smile breathed life into his frail features, withered by years of battling the lung condition cystic fibrosis, as Darren Easton looked up from his wheelchair at his radiant bride and said: “I do.”
As he and fellow CF sufferer Lauren Pope exchanged simple white gold bands, a collective gulp of emotion sounded across the hospital conservatory, prettily decorated with white flowers for the occasion.
Sixty people – 30 friends and family and the others drawn from medical teams who had treated them down the years – watched this devoted couple become husband and wife, their cheeks smattered with tears of joy and sadness.
For everyone knew this wedding was the 24-year-old groom’s dying wish, following the devastating news in November that he had just weeks to live, after his body rejected the donor lungs he received two years ago and had prayed would significantly lengthen his life.
It had been made possible by a GoFundMe crowdfunding page, which doubled its modest £1,500 target within just two days.
And now, his skinny frame perched on his wheelchair, hooked up to a morphine pump, yet dressed smartly in a grey-checked suit, Darren was proudly making the most of every second with his stunning bride, wearing a beautiful lace-bodiced white gown.
Admiring her five bridesmaids – Lauren’s friend Carly, 25, Sarah, 27, sisters Anne-Marie, 32 and Abigail, 13, and sister-in-law Chelsea, 26, dressed in pale pink – Darren never allowed the spectre of death to cloud a single second of his wedding day.
His voice quivering with emotion, speaking from Harefield Hospital in Hillingdon, Greater London, where he was married on Thursday December 6 and will stay until he dies, Darren said: “Marrying Lauren meant the world to me and I feel completed, as though my life has been worth living.”
Both diagnosed with CF, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs, at birth, hospital has been a second home for Darren, of Fulham, south west London, and Lauren, also 24, of Watford, Hertfordshire, who have grown up knowing only around half of sufferers live beyond 40, according to the NHS.
But, in a bitter irony, without CF this couple would never have met.
For they were first introduced in March 2015 at the funeral of a mutual friend and fellow CF sufferer, Ben Fidelia.
Chatting later over drinks at the wake, they gradually twigged that they had seen each other before – two years earlier, in October 2013, in a corridor of the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea, south west London, where, since turning 16, they had both regularly received in-patient treatment for CF.
Lauren recalled: “I was walking along back to my ward, with a cup of tea in one hand and my phone in the other talking to my mum, and I saw these three six-foot blokes with their hoods up, coming towards me.
“I’m quite dinky so it was a little bit intimidating and as we got nearer to each other it didn’t look like they were going to let me through.
“Then, suddenly, one of them put his hand out and pulled his mate to the side, saying, ‘Let the lady through!'”
Of course, that had been Darren, which gave them a talking point, as they chatted late into the night, bonding instantly and promising to stay in touch and look out for each other on the wards, despite Lauren’s then boyfriend being with her at the funeral.
Just a few weeks later, they met again, in the Brompton, when Darren – a perpetual tease – walked in and seeing her black hair extensions lying on the floor joked: “What are those rats doing there?”
After that, their friendship blossomed and, during hospital stays for intravenous therapy – used to combat infections more effectively – often staying in rooms next to each other, Darren would bang on Lauren’s wall in the morning to wake her up for physiotherapy.
But their growing intimacy concerned nurses, according to Lauren, as CF patients were not meant to mix, because of the risk of cross-infection.
She said: “We really weren’t supposed to mix and they used to tell us off for it.
“One day, we sneaked off to the pub around the corner and a doctor saw us. After that they tried to have us moved further apart, but we protested singing ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ until they let us stay.”
She continued: “We really were inseparable.”
As Christmas 2015 arrived, again, they were in the Brompton together, but this time, Darren’s condition was far worse.
Still, they celebrated New Year’s Eve by sharing a Chinese takeaway together, while watching the fireworks on TV.
Knowing Lauren was, by then single, Darren recalled: “We were both having a really nice time so I said to her, ‘What would you do if I gave you a kiss,’ expecting she’d say something like, ‘I’d give you a slap’.
“But she didn’t, she just said, ‘I probably wouldn’t do anything’. And that was it. from that moment on – we were boyfriend and girlfriend.”
No one was surprised. The nurses had even been placing bets on who would ask who first.
Sadly, though, their spirits were dampened when Darren deteriorated drastically, and – on the transplant list since January 2016 – was expected to die within months unless donor lungs were found.
“I knew that I was ill and that I might not make it,” he explained. “But with CF you can be the healthiest person in the world and then one day get an infection that kills you the next day.
“So I thought, “What’s the point in not asking Lauren to be mine? She’s made me happier than anyone else in the world and we’re both going to die anyway – so we might as well be together and be happy.”
A major scare in March 2016 delayed his proposal, when Darren suddenly went into cardiac arrest, resulting in his family and Lauren being told he would probably die within 24 hours.
Incredibly, as loved ones including Darren’s parents, Lisa, 52, and Darren Sr., 50, and Lauren’s mum Samantha, 49, dad Tony, 62, and stepdad Phil, 49, gathered to say goodbye, a pair of donor lungs that were a match for Darren became available.
And, after an eight-hour operation at the Royal Brompton, he was given a new lease of life.
“When I woke up, I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t move, but I knew I had survived and had been given another shot at life,” he said.
“The first thing that came into my head was Lauren. She was all that seemed to matter to me, so, before I saw my family or anyone, I asked for her.”
Holding a felt-tip pen in his hand, Darren wrote on a scrap of paper, ‘Will you marry me Lauren?’
The note – which she keeps in her purse and takes everywhere – was barely legible, but Lauren understood and immediately agreed.
Weak but stable, Darren returned home after a month – soon moving into Lauren’s Watford flat , despite the risk, as the lovebirds planned for the wedding they wanted once they had saved enough, a tough call as CF made working impossible.
Still, both in better health than they had been for ages, Darren said: “Living together was such an amazing time.”
He continued: “Whereas most couples argue over what to watch on telly, we were arguing about space in the fridge for each of our medicines!”
Fit enough to resume his hobby of fixing and dismantling motorbikes, Darren spent most of his time out in the shed, tending to his beloved Yamaha YZF – which niggled Lauren.
Darren laughed: “She was getting annoyed that I was outside all the time, so the natural solution in my mind was to bring the bike into the kitchen and fiddle with it there.”
He continued: “That got her a lot more annoyed – especially when she saw the tyre marks on the walls – but eventually she calmed down.
“She knows that I’m that kind of person. I like to tease and sometimes I wind her up,, but she knows that I love her and will always keep my promises to her.”
Sadly, their love nest was broken up last month, when Darren’s health nosedived – soon making him worse than he had been before the transplant.
Admitted to Harefield Hospital on November 10th, he was told his body had rejected his new lungs, meaning his care would only be palliative.
Lauren recalled: “That was the most horrendous day. Having thought that his new lungs would give him a new lease of life, to then be told that it hadn’t worked was unbearable.”
Though the lungs had functioned for nearly two years, a severe infection early in 2018 had caused them to start failing and, in turn, his body rejected them.
Now desperately ill, his initial six month life expectancy was reduced to just a few weeks, after doctors realised his infection was worse than initially thought
Ever the gentleman, this made Darren even more determined to keep his promise to Lauren – to make her his wife.
So, with the help of Antoinette Holden, 46, the mum of one of Lauren’s friends, they launched a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise a modest £1,500 to fund their wedding.
Within just two days, they had doubled their target and felt “eternally grateful” to the hundreds of friends and strangers who had donated money, as well as the bride’s dress, food and flowers for the wedding.
While their big day was not quite what they had imagined, they shared it with loved ones and other significant family and friends.
And, despite having to rest before going to the reception, decked out like a winter wonderland, at Black Jack’s Mill – a nearby private home donated by the owners for the occasion – Darren says it was the best day of his life.
He said: “It was the greatest day ever. We’d been looking forward to it for so long, but I’d never expected to be as good as it was.”
Whether Darren has just days or weeks to share with his new bride, he would never have it any other way.
Explaining what making her his wife means to him, he said: “It’s amazing. It is the best feeling in the world, to be married to the person you love most.”
He continued: “I have come to terms with the fact that I am going to die, and now my only concern is that Lauren will be stable and that she’ll be able to live comfortably.
“I have put away some money for her as well as a box of my things for her to keep.
“But more than anything else I want her to be able to be happy – and to know that even after I’m gone I’ll always be with her.”
And, although “till death us do part,” had a particular poignancy when they said their vows, Lauren will treasure their words forever.
“I know it says till death do us part in the vows, but it’s not for us,” she said. “Our love goes beyond that and will last long after both of us have gone.”
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/please-help-darren-to-fulfill-his-last-wish
© Press Association 2018