UAB community rallies together to host wedding in the NICU

When a couple decided to get married in their newborn daughter’s RNICU room, the UAB community came together to pull off their wedding.

wedding nicu streamTyler Campbell, Rubia Ferreira and baby Kaelin MariaWhen Rubia Ferreira had to undergo an emergency caesarian section at 24 weeks’ gestation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she had no idea that just a few months later she and fiancé Tyler Campbell would be getting married in their daughter’s hospital room.

The couple met while Campbell was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, as a combat engineer in the Marines. After finding out they were expecting a daughter in February 2018, the two planned a trip back to Campbell’s hometown of Jasper, Alabama, before the baby was set to be born. While visiting, Ferreira experienced abdominal pain that ultimately sent her to UAB.

After being diagnosed with HELLP syndrome — a series of symptoms that affect pregnant women, including the breakdown of red blood cells and elevated liver enzymes — physicians determined that Ferreira needed to undergo surgery right away to save both her and their baby’s life.

On Nov. 8, 2017, Kaelin Maria was born at just 24.4 weeks. She was immediately admitted to UAB’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she has been monitored for five months since birth.

wedding nicu vowsPastoral Care Director Malcolm Marler officiates the wedding as baby Kaelin looks on.In the months following Kaelin’s premature birth, Ferreira and Campbell starting discussing the prospect of getting married sooner than expected.

“We knew we didn’t want to wait any longer to get married – we wanted to make sure our daughter would be there,” Campbell said. “We thought about how cool it would be to have our wedding in Kaelin’s room, but never expected that it could actually happen.”

Upon hearing about their wedding idea, the UAB team stepped in.

“We had never had a wedding of this size and scale in the RNICU, but everyone was willing to do whatever it would take to make it a reality,” said Sandra Milstead, R.N., BSN, family nurse liaison in UAB’s Women and Infants Center. “So many people at UAB had formed relationships with Tyler and Rubia, and we all wanted to make sure that, although taking place in a hospital, this was the wedding of their dreams. That’s what they deserved.”

To make the wedding a reality in just two weeks, departments across UAB lent their time, energy and services. From UAB Arts in Medicine providing décor and a sewn bouquet for the bride, to UAB Catering serving refreshments and the wedding cake, disciplines across campus were in communication to ensure no details were left out.

wedding nicu aisleFerreira walked down the makeshift aisle with Kaelin’s neonatologist Waldemar Carlo, M.D.Ferreira walked down the makeshift aisle with Kaelin’s neonatologist Waldemar Carlo, M.D., director of UAB’s Division of Neonatology, while UAB Medicine Pastoral Care Director Malcolm Marler officiated the ceremony. With nurses and staff from both UAB and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama looking on, their union was sealed Feb. 14, 2018 — Valentine’s Day.

The intimate ceremony left not a dry eye in the unit, with the occasion bringing much joy to the bride and groom, team, and all involved.

“UAB has helped save not only my life, but my daughter’s as well, and it meant the world to share this milestone with our new family here,” Ferreira said.

While they plan to return to Okinawa once Kaelin is discharged later this summer and healthy enough to make the trip back, they want her to know all about their unique wedding when she is old enough and to recognize how special their connection to UAB is.

“We want Kaelin to look back at pictures from our wedding and know about our experience as a family at UAB,” Campbell said. “We hope she understands how much we cared for and loved her, and that it meant the world to us to have our wedding take place right there with her.”