As transplant patient Darren Eastwood kissed his bride in a moving hospital wedding ceremony, the 60 guests around them wept tears of joy – and overwhelming sadness.
Because the vows he took with sweetheart Lauren Pope, who suffers from the same dreadful disease, were made in a race against time.
Darren, 24, is receiving end-of-life care knowing cystic fibrosis has robbed them both of a future together after his transplanted lungs went into rejection. He has only weeks to live.
But the brave couple were determined to seal a romance that began when they met at the funeral of a fellow CF sufferer in 2015.
And family friend Antoinette Holden, 46, began crowdfunding – raising £3,000 in just 14 days to pay for the tragic couple’s first and final dream.
After exchanging vows before family, friends and medical staff in the hospital conservatory ceremony, frail Darren, on a morphine drip, told us: “When I knew I was going to die, we were going to do all we could to get married.
"More than anything I want Lauren to be happy – and to know even after I’m gone, I’ll always be with her.”
And hairdresser Lauren, also 24, said: “I know the vows say till death do us part, but it’s not for us. Our love goes beyond that and will last long after both of us have gone.”
Mechanic Darren had proposed to hairdresser Lauren in March 2016 just moments after he came round from his double lung transplant. They planned to wed once they had saved enough money.
Last month, the donor lungs they hoped would give them more time failed. And as an infection took hold, on November 27 doctors told Darren he had weeks left.
But that was far from his mind as he was helped into his suit by best man Wayne Holmes, 27, who had stayed the night in his hospital room on a camp bed. Mechanic Darren had to rest between the ceremony at Harefield Hospital, Hillingdon, London, and the reception.
Then he gathered all his strength to stand up from his wheelchair for a few touching moments to have their first dance to Lukas Graham’s Love Someone.
Both Darren and Lauren were diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis, and hospital became their second home. Neither were expected to live beyond 40.
But without the genetic disorder they would never have met. They were both 21 when they were introduced in March 2015 at the funeral of a mutual friend and sufferer Ben Fidelia who died at 24.
Chatting at the wake, they realised they had met fleetingly before in 2013, in a corridor of Royal Brompton Hospital, Chelsea, where they had both received treatment.
Lauren, of Watford, recalls: “I’d seen these three six-foot blokes with their hoods up, coming towards me. I’m quite dinky so it was intimidating.
“Then as they got near one of them put his hand out, saying, ‘Let the lady through’. It was Darren.”
As the pair chatted at the funeral they realised how much they had in common.
Weeks later, they met again at hospital and their friendship blossomed – often staying in neighbouring rooms. But their growing closeness worried nurses, as CF patients are not meant to mix because of cross-infection risks.
“They used to tell us off,” says Lauren. “One day we sneaked off to the pub and a doctor saw us. They tried to move us further apart, but we protested singing ‘we shall not be moved’ until they let us stay. We were inseparable.”
They saw in New Year 2016 watching the fireworks on TV and shared their first kiss.Darren recalls: “I said, ‘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. And that was it. No one was surprised.
“The nurses had even bet on who would ask who first.”
Just weeks later, Darren’s condition worsened and he was put on the transplant list. By March he was given 24 hours to live after a cardiac arrest.
Incredibly donor lungs were found and he had an eight-hour op at the Royal Brompton. Darren said: ”When I woke up I couldn’t speak but knew I had another shot at life. So I asked for Lauren by making an L shape with my hand.” Then he wrote on a scrap of paper, ‘Will you marry me Lauren?’. She said yes and has kept his proposal note in her purse ever since.
Darren, of Fulham, moved into Lauren’s flat in Watford a month later. He said: “Living together was amazing. We had an unusual relationship, though. Most couples argue over what to watch on TV. We argued about fridge space for our medicines.”
But their joy was short-lived when Darren’s health deteriorated and he was admitted to Harefield last month. His new lungs were rejecting him. There was nothing doctors could do.
Lauren recalls: “That was the most horrendous, unbearable day.”
Then Antoinette stepped in. “She’s been fantastic and offered to organise the wedding. She did it in a week,” said Lauren. Well-wishers doubled her GoFundMe target of £1,500 – chipping in for Lauren’s wedding dress, food and flowers. Lauren said: “I feel like we owe them everything.”
Her bridesmaids were sisters Anne-Marie, 32, and Abigail, 13, and and sister-in-law Chelsea, 26. Darren’s parents Lisa 52, and Darren Snr were there with Lauren’s mum Samantha, 49, dad Tony, 62 and his partner, Phil, 49. The reception was at a nearby private home, Black Jack’s Mill, donated by the owners. Darren said: “It was the greatest day ever. My only concern now is Lauren will be stable. I have put away money for her as well as a box of my things to keep. I want her to be happy.”
Lauren added: “Having CF, you know it takes everyone in the end. We had so many plans for our life together that we’ll never achieve, but at least we’ve achieved this.”
- You can donate at gofundme.com/please-help-darren-to-fulfill-his-last-wish
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