KANKAKEE — A hospital room might not have been the venue Mindy Garrelts Heavilin dreamed of getting married in since she was a little girl, but an impromptu wedding at Riverside — where her terminally ill mother could be by her side — turned out to be better than the bride or her family could have imagined.
On March 4, Mindy Garrelts, 26, and Dustin Heavilin, 25, both of Sibley, were married in the intensive care unit at Riverside Hospital, where Mindy’s mother was being treated for renal failure after a seven-year cancer battle, in a ceremony orchestrated by Riverside nurses.
The bride’s grandfather officiated the wedding, and her father walked her down the aisle. The groom’s mother was also present and helped the bride to put on her wedding dress. About 10 immediate family members attended in total.
Angela Garrelts, 48, of Milford, who worked as a home health and hospice nurse, was diagnosed with renal cell cancer in 2015. She was being treated at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America before transferring to Riverside to be closer to home.
Angela was discharged to hospice days after seeing her daughter’s wedding and died at home the following week on March 10.
Mindy, who is also a registered nurse, recalled the night her mother arrived at Riverside.
She noted that the nurses did such a great job making her mother feel comfortable, the family finally felt OK with going home to get some rest.
“We got there at 11 at night, almost midnight, and pretty much ever since we hit the doors, it was probably the best care I’ve seen, and I work in healthcare myself,” she said. “I haven’t seen that much good-quality care for a patient in a long time.”
With how dedicated Angela was to taking care of others, it was only fitting she was able to receive such care at the end of her life.
“She did her work 24/7. She was even working when she was in the hospital, if that tells you anything,” Mindy said. “It didn’t matter how sick she was, if we were on vacation; if anyone needed help, she took time out of her day to help them and make their lives easier.”
When nothing more could be done to improve Angela’s condition, Riverside nurses reached out to Mindy and her father about having a small wedding ceremony at the hospital.
“That was what was making my mom want to hold on longer, because she wanted to make it to my wedding,” Mindy said.
Everywhere the family turned, someone was volunteering to help make the day special.
“[The nurses] went to Hobby Lobby and got every single decoration imaginable,” Mindy said. “They told me I didn’t have to worry about anything, just to bring me, my dress, and if I had like my bouquet or anything, and do my makeup and that’s about it. I said OK.”
In the rush of the unexpected ceremony, Dustin forgot to bring a suit jacket, so one of the hospital administrators lent his jacket for the groom to wear.
A hospital patient who heard about the wedding provided a cake for the occasion from a family member who is a baker.
One of the nurses who used to be a beautician offered to do Mindy’s and Angela’s hair. A security guard brought Mindy flowers.
The chief nursing officer helped Mindy pick out a song to walk down the aisle to with her father.
“It was a lot of emotions, but they were great emotions,” Mindy said. “I mean yes, it was sad what would end up coming, but it was happy emotions to the point where, they are doing all this for us and they didn’t have to.”
The hospital also hired a photographer and a videographer to capture the moment and provided cookies and sparkling grape juice.
The family bought lunch for the hospital staff and anyone who wanted to celebrate; some nurses even came back on their day off just for the ceremony.
“There literally was not a dry eye in that place,” Mindy said. “The whole room was completely packed, down the hallway was packed with nurses, doctors, CNAs, housekeepers, everyone lined up. The CEO was there; everyone came to show how much my mom meant to them.”
As for Angela’s reaction, Mindy said she is unsure if she has ever seen her mother smile so much, especially when they first saw each other wearing their dresses.
After all, Angela was the one who encouraged Mindy to pop the question to her fiancé in the first place “because she absolutely loved Dustin.”
“She was just so happy that she got to go through the whole shebang with me, getting ready, making sure my hair looked good, making sure my makeup looked OK,” Mindy said.
Of course, the tears started flowing as well.
“I think a lot of it was kind of speechless though, too, because we really just didn’t know how to react,” she said.
Mindy and Dustin had an official ceremony April 30 that the rest of their family and friends could attend, and although Angela could not physically be present, the couple made sure she still played a prominent role.
Mindy’s brother Justin stepped in for the mother-daughter dance with Angela’s dress draped over his shoulder. They also set a place for Angela with her photo, her favorite drink, and a personal letter from Riverside CEO Phil Kambic for guests to read.
Chad Garrelts, 49, of Milford, Angela’s husband and Mindy’s father, said the Riverside wedding was a “whole hospital effort,” and that he cannot do or say enough to express how much the care she received meant to the family.
“It meant the world to all of us,” he said.
Chad said the staff did everything possible to give Angela a fighting chance, make her comfortable and prepare her for every step, just like she had done for others as a nurse.
In the end, they made the process easier and helped get Angela to the point where she could come home to see her granddaughter one last time, he said.
“It’s unbelievable how even a smaller community came together for us,” Chad said. “It was unreal.”
Nancy Moore, patient liaison who helped to coordinate the event, estimated the hospital has done four weddings in the 20 years she has worked there, the last one being about seven years ago when an older patient was the groom.
“It’s a rare occasion, and this one was probably the most special,” she said.
Moore said the wedding was a “hospital project,” with everyone from nurses to hospital administration getting involved, and that everyone felt it was “just the right thing to do.”
“It makes me tear up thinking about it,” she said. “It just was so sweet and loving.”
Moore added that it is the hospital’s goal to take care of the whole family, not just the patient.
“We’ve had some tough days here, and this just made it a little better,” she said. “Things are going to be better, and this was a way to give back to a family that was so deserving.”
Jessica Norman, a nurse who helped to coordinate the event, said that Angela confided in the ICU nurses that her goal was to get to her daughter’s wedding.
“Every time we were talking about what our plan was going to be, she said, ‘I just want to see my daughter get married,’” Norman said.
Sadly, the nurses were unsure if Angela would make it to the event or even be able to go home again, so they contacted the family about a ceremony at Riverside.
When the family agreed, the nurses pooled their money, bought decorations, and in 24 hours they converted a hospital room into a makeshift wedding chapel.
“You couldn’t tell it was an ICU room,” Norman said.
Angela got up in her chair for the first time in weeks to get dressed up for the event.
“I am a mom of three, and if it was me in the reverse position of Angie, I would hope somebody would do that for me and my kids someday, and I could only imagine being in Mindy’s shoes not being able to know if your mom was going to be at your wedding,” Norman said. “I have a really good relationship with my mom. I don’t know how I would go through my wedding day without my mom being by my side.”
Norman also recounted Angela’s positive disposition and that she would always have a big smile on her face whenever someone entered the room. She said the nurses were glad they could help give her closure.
“Even as we got her home on hospice, a day or two later, she looked at me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thank you. I am so happy I saw Mindy get married.’”
SPRINGFIELD — As rain steadily fell in Springfield Thursday morning, there was a somber feeling among the law enforcement officers and elected officials who gathered at the Illinois State Library to honor 11 fallen officers killed in the line of duty in 2021.
“I have a heavy heart when I think about the loss of these 11 individuals, it’s a sad day for all of us,” Secretary of State Jesse White said.
The 11 officers honored were officer Joseph T. Cappello III of Melrose Park Police Department; officer Gary Steven Hibbs of Chicago Heights Police Department; trooper Todd A. Hanneken of Illinois State Police; Lt. James J. Kouski Jr. of Hometown Police Department; officer Allen Serta Giacchetti of Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department; officer Christopher Neil Oberheim of Champaign Police Department; officer Brian Russell Pierce Jr of Brooklyn Police Department; officer Ella Grace French of Chicago Police Department; officer Tyler Nathaniel Timmins of Pontoon Beach Police Department; Deputy Sean Ian Riley of Wayne County Sheriff’s Office; and Sgt. Marlene R. Rittmanic of Bradley Police Department.
Family members of the fallen officers were presented with plaques from Gov. JB Pritzker and received a wreath to commemorate their loved ones.
Amber Oberheim, widow of Officer Neil Oberheim, said in a follow-up interview that the event speaks volumes to lawmakers and elected leaders because when someone loses a loved one while on duty, they all feel it.
“I think the sheer magnitude of people who were here with an expectation for some change and support for law enforcement, I think will speak volumes, hopefully, to our leaders,” she said.
Officer Oberheim was shot and killed at 3:20 a.m. May 19, 2021, while responding to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex in Champaign. He served with the Champaign Police Department for 13 years.
In an emotional tribute to fallen officers, Comptroller Susana Mendoza said the job is too often thankless and the individuals “willingly choose to take an oath to protect and serve” people who they have never met and are willing to give their lives to protect others.
“This is a horribly difficult and painful thing,” Mendoza said. “There’s nothing any of us, certainly not us politicians, can say to make you feel better.”
Mendoza said she believes it’s important that all officers take care of their mental and physical well-being due to the toll the job can take.
Mendoza said she wants every officer to understand that “you’re human and it’s OK” to ask for help when needed and to lean on others for support, and that mental and physical well-being should be the utmost priority.
Speakers went on to give thanks to officers for making immense, and even sometimes ultimate, sacrifice to protect those in and around their community.
Pritzker also recognized Knox County Deputy Nicholas Weist who was killed in the line of duty on April 29, 2022.
According to a news release from the Illinois State Police, Weist was responding to an emergency call about an individual with a gun at a Circle K Gas Station in Galesburg when he was hit and killed by the suspect vehicle as he was setting out spike strips.
“Each of these officers’ communities has been forever altered, teams forever bereaved, families that will never be made whole again,” Pritzker said.
The names of the fallen officers will be engraved on the memorial statue that sits on the west lawn of the State Capitol.
You have another chance to watch the “Murder in the Heartland” series episode about the investigation into the 2014 murder of Sarah Washington in Kankakee.
The episode “Whispered Warning” first aired earlier this week and can be viewed again at 7 p.m. Monday on the Investigations Discovery (Channel 324 Comcast).
The episode tells the story of the murder investigation as well as a closer look at Washington’s life. She worked at Riverside Medical Center and wanted to become a nurse. Washington was preparing to start a new job at the time of her murder.
Rex Frank was tried and convicted of shooting the 24-year-old Washington in her Kankakee apartment on June 26, 2014.
Forensic evidence led Kankakee police investigators to charge Frank with Washington’s murder in April 2016.
In the show, Sarah’s mother, Kathy Gates, talks about her daughter and discovering her body when she came to pick her up for work.
Sarah’s father, DeAngelo Washington, and brother, Jeremy Gates, were also interviewed for the show.
Among others interviewed were Sarah’s neighbor Trice Harris; Sarah’s friend and co-worker Alyssa Movern; Sarah’s friend Kashawna Roberts; Dr. Patricia Polk, Sarah’s modeling mentor; Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater; Detective Sgt. Steven Hunter; Sgt. Lacie Harsy; and Kankakee County First Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Kosman.
Passwater was in charge of the Investigations Division at the time of murder, while Hunter investigated the case and Harsy was a patrol officer who was on scene shortly after the 911 call was received.