NEW CASTLE —
If a doctor gave you five days to live, what would your dying wish be?
Believe it or not, I had this question on my list several months before I met Judy Metallo Johnson. And who better to answer this question than someone who has just heard that heart-breaking edict.
Judy knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted to be married to her fiancé of two years, Kirt Johnson. And this is the incredible tale of how this couple's love story became a story of love about not only them, but of family, friends, complete strangers, a hospital staff, a community, and above all, the love and grace of God.
I met Judy, 48, and Kirt, 45, both of New Castle, for the first time from the side of Judy’s hospital bed, two days after their spur-of-the-moment wedding. Have you even seen the type of couple that holds each other’s hands and gazes into each other’s eyes, and you feel guilty even being in the room because you can feel how palpable the love is between them? That’s Judy and Kirt, and I hated taking any of their precious time away from them. But they wanted me there, because it was part of Judy’s wish that their story be shared.
“I was on my way to New York about three years ago to work at a ministry when I came through New Castle,” Kirt told me. “I ended up getting involved with the Rescue Mission ministry here, and stayed. It wasn’t long after that I met Judy, and I knew it was divine intervention that I ended up here.”
Judy agrees. “He’s the man of my dreams. He’s everything to me. I couldn’t ask for a better husband.”
"I prayed for her, and God brought her to me," Kirt said, gazing at Judy with wonderment.
The couple was engaged a short time later, but it wasn't long before tragedy struck. Judy was diagnosed with terminal liver failure. Two years later, a suitable donor had yet to be found, and Judy’s prognosis shrank from months to weeks, and then, last Monday, to mere days.
This, however, is not the end of their tale, but the beginning of an amazing story. And this is when their story became one of so many others, and of the grace of a God who linked together one incredible player after another to grant Judy’s final wish of marrying Kirt.
On Feb. 6, Cyndee Adamo, volunteer coordinator for Jameson Hospital, was working the Guest Services desk because her two volunteers just happened to have the flu. It was that day that Kirt, an employee in the laundry department, stopped to tell Cyndee that his fiancée, Judy, was failing fast.
Cyndee just happens to be neighbors with Lawrence County Commissioner Steve Craig. Craig contacted the Prothonotary’s Office at the courthouse to see about getting around the three-day waiting period for a marriage license. The staff at the Prothonotary’s Office provided a waiver and a blank marriage license. In yet another astounding act of kindness, an anonymous searcher in the office at the time paid the fee for the paperwork.
At the same time, social worker Amanda Montag-Farina contacted Rev. Dennis Bupp Jr. to officiate the ceremony, Jameson’s Nutritional Services Department baked a wedding cake, the Jameson Junior Guild made a bouquet for the bride, and Director of Information Management Jamie DcDonough donated her own bridal veil and cape. Nursing aids, student nurses, and staff nurses worked together to get Judy ready by doing her hair and nails, and her sister did her makeup.
Meanwhile, the Adult Make-a-Wish foundation was flying Judy’s parents, whom she hadn’t seen in almost 10 years, from Florida. They arrived just one hour before the ceremony. Moments before the wedding, Craig returned with an English sixpence for the bride to wear in her slipper as “something borrowed.”
Less than nine hours from its inception, Judy’s dying wish was granted when she married Kirt in the hospital chapel with all of her friends and family present. Alongside them stood the dozens of individuals whose love and charity spanned the width of an entire community to make this dream come true.
In one final act of generosity, Kirt is now able to spend Judy’s last taking care of her, thanks to donations of money and sick time from his coworkers.
“Last year, I fell in the hallway, and Kirt came by and scooped me up,” Adamo recalled. “He picked me up when I was down. I wanted to help pick him up when he was down. We’re a family here.”
The Johnsons, as well as their new-found family, have absolutely no doubt that the hand of God was responsible for everything from bringing them together to bringing together an entire community to fulfill Judy's dream.
Even I, for as small a part as I was given in this story, felt that I'd been compelled in some way to walk into Judy's hospital room last Thursday. After all, it was almost Valentine's Day, and here was the most heartwarming, albeit heartbreaking, love story that I'd ever heard.
Not just a couple's love story, but one of the kind of love that starts in one person's heart, and spreads to another and another like a flame, eventually warming the hearts of all it touches like the deep-burning, unquenchable glow of embers.
This is the true story of love that lives forever.
“Never take your loved ones for granted. And if you're ever lucky enough to find that one person in life who makes you love more than any other person could possibly make you love, you treat every day together as if it were your last. You cherish every moment.”
— Sebastian Cole