WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Daniel Pecoraro and Lisa Siegel shouldn’t be getting married on a Monday.
But on November 7th, from his hospital bed, Pecoraro decided that this day would be the happiest day of her life.
He had been admitted to HCA Florida JFK Hospital in Atlantis three days earlier with chest pains – only to be told he needed triple bypass surgery just days before the couple’s scheduled wedding ceremony.
“So I said, ‘Let’s get married right now. Call the rabbi and bring him here,” Pecoraro recalled. “We had the marriage license and I didn’t want to let it go to waste.”
The wedding was hastily put together, but the wedding certainly wasn’t. Siegel and Pecoraro had been engaged for eight years and planned a scenic ceremony at his mother’s Boynton Beach home followed by a grand dinner at the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa.
Then everything changed.
Pecoraro, a 55-year-old science teacher at LC Swain Middle School in Greenacres, developed chest pains on November 4 while running between meetings at school.
“I started to feel shooting pains in my arm,” he recalled, recognizing the pain from a few days earlier. “I spoke to the secretary who told me I better take it seriously.”
After going to the hospital, Pecoraro learned that an artery in his heart was only letting through 10% of the blood it should – causing chest pain and threatening his life. Triple bypass was the only option and was added to the calendar three days before his scheduled wedding.
Although doctors in the US perform nearly 500,000 coronary artery bypass graft surgeries each year with a success rate of around 98%, Pecoraro knew it would take weeks to recover from the surgery.
“I won’t be able to go back to work for six to eight weeks and I won’t be able to drive for eight weeks,” he said. “I could not have stood or attended the wedding ceremony.”
He then decided to pop the question (again), asking Siegel, a 48-year-old jewelry store owner, if she would take the vows in the hospital chapel.
“I said it was a great idea,” she recalls. “I said yes!’ ”
Nurses and hospital staff decorate the chapel for an emergency wedding
The couple planned to go to the chapel to hold a small ceremony with their parents. Then they would return to Pecoraro’s room to eat biscuits from his mother and toast their marriage.
But the hospital staff had other plans.
Nurses, caretakers and other staff cleared out the chapel and added a long banquet table with a white tablecloth and wine glasses. They set up a buffet for the couple’s “reception” and filled the chapel with cheers and good wishes.
“It was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe how beautifully they made it,” Siegel, whose last name is now Pecoraro, said of the room.
The bride wore a white blouse and carried a small bouquet of colorful daisies. The groom, followed by his IV line, wore a boutonniere pinned to his blue plaid long-sleeved shirt. The couple’s rabbi married them in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
There was no time for a honeymoon.
Pecoraro underwent surgery on November 10 and spent his original wedding anniversary recovering in the hospital.
There were no complications from the procedure and he is expected to be home well before Thanksgiving.
How emergency surgery changed a teacher’s attitude (but not his homework policy)
But the unexpected operation will shape his life in other ways.
After teaching seventh graders at LC Swain for 18 years, Pecoraro said he will miss his students very much over the holidays. He runs the school’s coin collectors’ club and is looking forward to an annual stone-cutting and polishing lab he’s having the students conduct in December.
“I won’t see my kids again until spring break,” he said. “You won’t take it very well.”
But he said the surprise surgery and wedding boosted his optimistic outlook on life.
“That’s what life is about. It spins in the blink of an eye,” he said. “I know that I always have to look for the positive.”
And that also means that no matter what changes, LC Swain students should continue to do their homework.
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