Thrive by IU Health

May 27, 2021

Father of five girls gets wish with hospital bedside wedding

IU Health University Hospital

Father of five girls gets wish with hospital bedside wedding

Seven weeks ago, Matthew Rynearson was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor. When he expressed his wishes to marry his fiancé, the medical intensive care team at IU Health University Hospital planned a bedside wedding.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

They were walking across the SkyBridge in Gatlinburg, Tenn. last fall when Matthew Rynearson noticed his girlfriend’s shoe was untied. It was the perfect opportunity for him to get down on one knee and offer to tie her laces. It was also the perfect opportunity for him to pull out the princess cut diamond ring he had tucked into his pocket and ask for her hand in marriage.

The get-away to Tennessee was bittersweet for the Walkerton, Ind. couple. Last September, Rynearson’s fiancé, Kelsie Cunningham gave birth to a 9 pound, 9 ounce baby girl with a beautiful head of hair. Her lungs weren’t fully developed and she died within 24 hours. Two days after the anniversary of losing their baby girl, they faced more sadness. Rynearson was diagnosed with cancer.

So, when he became a patient at IU Health University Hospital, Rynearson told the nurses he would like to marry Cunningham and the he’d like to do it soon. Within hours, the social workers, nurses, and other caregivers turned to their “hug fund” and made Rynearson’s dream a reality.

With a two-hour drive ahead of her, Kelsie got an early start with a 7:30 a.m. wake up call for her wedding hairdo. She arrived at the hospital wearing a floral dress and brought a fresh button-down shirt for her bridegroom. The other details were taken care of by the IU Health University Hospital medical intensive care staff. Social worker Ruth Miller sewed an ivory satin ring pillow with a pocket for keepsakes. A cart with a white tablecloth was wheeled into Rynearson’s room complete with a wedding cake, bouquet and boutonniere.

At 11 a.m. music therapist Adam Perry began playing soothing music on his acoustic guitar. Nurses and other staff members gathered, and IU Health chaplain, Staci Striegel-Stikeleather, opened the ceremony with a prayer.

Matthew and Kelsie hospital ceremony

“It is an honor to be standing up here today as these two people become one, united in their love and commitment for each other,” said Striegel-Stikeleather. “The affection they have and the love they have found in each other is eternal.”

The couple locked eyes, held hands and smiled continuously during the exchange of vows. Cunningham laughed nervously as she stumbled over her words. She later said her nerves were getting the best of her.

The night before her wedding, Cunningham, put five little girls to bed. She then tried to get her much needed rest. The road to this special day had been filled with laughter and tears.

It was almost three years ago when Rynearson and Cunningham had their first date at a bowling alley. They met online. Rynearson lived in Bremen, Ind. and Cunningham lived more than an hour away in Wheatfield, Ind.

“He was the better bowler by far, but I still knew it was love at first sight,” said Cunningham, 31. Rynearson’s previous 10-year marriage made him the father to two girls ages 13 and 9. Cunningham is the mother to three girls ages 8, 6, and 2.

Rynearson and Cunningham family photo

“A couple weeks after our first date we decided that if the kids didn’t get along we’d call it quits. They hit it off and we moved forward with the relationship,” said Cunningham. Last year, they moved into a five-bedroom home in Walkerton, complete with a yard filled with a play set and swimming pool.

In addition to bowling, the couple shares a love for swimming, camping, hiking and Mexican food – especially Rynearson’s “amazing” nachos. More than anything, Cunningham fell in love with Rynearson’s kind heart. It’s not unusual to find him hiking trails with the girls, playing with dolls, or circling them up to paint their nails.

“He is funny, down-to-earth, calm and easy-going and he is an amazing dad,” said Cunningham, who has worked for 14 years as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Rynearson, 34, said he fell in love with Cunningham’s compassion for others.

“In her line of work, it is easy to see how kind and caring she is. When I was diagnosed, I wanted our girls to see that no matter what life throws your way you can persevere,” said Rynearson. He also wanted to give Cunningham hope for their future. I tell her all the time to not look at the worst possible outcome but to take things as they come. I wanted to give her a peace of mind knowing we are in this together for how ever long,” he added.

Since his diagnosis, Rynearson has been on chemotherapy. They both know the future is uncertain.

“I am so thankful to the staff for making this happen. It is so important to us,” said Rynearson, surrounded by Nurses Rachai Vogelgesang, Mandee Canner, Patient Care Assistant Kirsten Svetich, and Social Worker Sarah Hale. Several other staff members peeked through his hospital door to wish him well. “It is an honor to us to have an opportunity to bring light and joy into their lives,” said Hale, who had written “Congrats” on her facemask.

And on this day as the two exchanged their vows, there was little doubt about that joy. Rynearson and Cunningham whispered, “I loves you,” followed by “I love you more.” And as they exchanged rings and were introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. Matthew and Kelsie Rynearson” onlookers cheered. The husband and wife embraced, and exchanged the traditional face cake smash. With goblets of apple juice, they toasted to love each other “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health.”

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