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Hospital grants man’s dying wish: A wedding before hospice care

‘I love you,’ Javier Rodriguez whispered to his bride as they stood at a hastily decorated altar. Crystal Cuevas put a trembling hand over her mouth and wept.

Wedding of Javier Rodriguez, 23-year-old dying patient of the University of Chicago Medical Center, and his girlfriend Crystal Cuevas on November 27, 2019.
Javier Rodriguez and Crystal Cuevas kiss after being married Wednesday at a chapel in the UChicago Medicine complex.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

As half an hour stretched into an hour, Crystal Cuevas began to pace just a little, her fingers fretting with a small bouquet of white roses.

The 23-year-old Logan Square woman joked that it was the groom who is supposed to be kept waiting, not the bride.

But the man Cuevas was about to marry hasn’t had much say recently in his life’s trajectory. So on this day, in a tiny chapel in the UChicago Medicine complex, Javier Rodriguez wanted everything to be just so — his socks, his crisp white shirt, his bow tie.

And so about an hour after the wedding was expected to start, Rodriguez arrived in a wheelchair, with an entourage of friends and people in scrubs, a tangle of clear plastic tubes dangling from above his head.

Dozens of people squeezed into the chapel, most with moist eyes before the ceremony had even begun. All but Cuevas and Rodriguez’s infant daughter understood that the groom has perhaps days to live.

“I love you,” Rodriguez whispered to his bride as they stood at the hastily decorated altar. She put a trembling hand over her mouth and wept.

Rodriguez, who has had two heart transplants stemming from a birth defect, made the decision over the weekend that he’d simply had enough.

“He’s at peace with that and that’s what makes it easier for me,” Cuevas said. “When I think about my daughter, that’s when it breaks me down.”

And so, as Rodriguez prepared for his hospice care at home in Logan Square, he and the woman he’s loved since they were juniors in high school rushed to prepare a wedding. Cuevas first tried on her perfectly fitting wedding dress an hour before the ceremony. A hospital staffer spread the strawberry cake frosting Wednesday morning.

“I just want my son to be happy,” said the groom’s mother, Ana Silva. “He’s marrying the love of his life, and they have a beautiful baby girl.”

“Javi, I now pronounce the two of you husband and wife,” pastor Stephanie Welsh said. “You may kiss ... your ... bride!”

And he did, for a long time.

“Get a room!” someone yelled from the gathering.

“This is our room!” the bride yelled back.

But only for that day. The newlyweds were expecting no more trips to the hospital, as they began the first day of the rest of their lives together.