Thrive by IU Health

Military man’s wish is fulfilled – He marries his true love at hospital bedside

IU Health University Hospital

Military man’s wish is fulfilled – He marries his true love at hospital bedside

Diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Nathan Graves, 22, knows his days are numbered. He recently made a decision within his control – to marry his long-time girlfriend. The wedding was performed in his hospital room at IU Health University Hospital Medical Intensive Care Unit.

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

It happened all of a sudden. The decision was made and within minutes Nathan Graves was exchanging vows with his girlfriend Kendra Bender. It wasn’t a surprise to those who know Graves.

“He just teaches you to live life to the fullest. When you first meet him you think his personality might be grim. It’s anything but that. It’s like he’s always saying, ‘this is where we are, now let’s make the most of it,’” said Kyle McLaughlin, a nurse who cared for Graves for days after he was admitted to IU Health University Hospital.

The youngest child of Larry and Marcia Graves attended Warren Central for part of high school, where he played baseball. He also took culinary arts classes at Warren Central’s Walker Career Center and worked at the Center’s Threshold Restaurant. In his spare time he enjoyed acting – especially improvisation – and once took on a role in the Shakespearean tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet.”

He went on to graduate from New Palestine High School in 2015 and he thought he might become a chef. But he never quite forgot about a girl he met during childhood. Kendra was a year younger than him and she remembers the two meeting at church. They were in middle school at the time.

***

With a desire to serve his country, Graves joined the Air Force after graduation. He completed basic and technical training in Texas and was stationed in Italy in 2016 working in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

“We knew we’d miss him, but we also thought it would be good for him to join the service and have a chance to mature,” said his dad. “We’ve always been very close. As a toddler he’d follow me from room to room. He’s just a special young man.”

It was when he was in Italy - May 2018 – when Graves was first diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. He started treatments in Italy and by mid-summer he returned to the United States. He remains on active duty. He began care with IU Health hematologist-oncologist Dr. Mohammad Abu Zaid. Chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant followed. Graves was back home for about nine months and by September 2019 he returned to IU Health for a second bone marrow transplant. All was good until the end of January. A spinal tap showed the cancer had spread to his central nervous system.

“We did what we could but it’s the end of the line,” said Graves. It was a tough realization. At this point, he said any treatment he receives would prolong his life but not cure his cancer.

***

So, he decided to truly live during the time he has left. He wants to see Disney World and the Grand Canyon but first he wanted to marry that girl he met at church when he was in middle school. About two years ago the two reconnected on Facebook. Graves took Kendra to dinner – her choice – LongHorn Steakhouse. That night they picked up where they’d left off.

“It instantly felt so natural and so comfortable. From that day on we hung out every day. It’s so hard not to fall in love with someone like Nathan. He is one in a million,” said Kendra. “He will always, always make you laugh and he has one of the best hearts I’ve ever known. We were truly meant to be.”

So when they decided to get married at IU Health University Hospital, plans were quickly set into motion. Hospital staff hustled to make the wish a reality. Reis-Nichols Jewelers donated Kendra’s dress, the couple’s rings and flowers.

IU Health Chaplain Staci Striegel-Stikeleather officiated the ceremony and Graves’ hospital room was filled with nurses and family members. Several others peered from the hallway witnessing the nuptials. When they played one of Graves’ favorite songs by Thomas Rhett, “Die a Happy Man,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Except for Graves.

“He was grinning from ear to ear,” said Joy Howard, a nurse on the palliative care team. “What is so special about this family is they are so cohesive. There’s a sense of togetherness and you could see it when he decided he wanted to get married at the hospital.”

It wasn’t just about two people publicly declaring their love for each other; it was also about a young man who many hospital caregivers have gotten to know and love.

“He’s so appreciative of the work everyone does. It’s easy to like him. It’s been hard on all of us,” said Sarah Hale, medical social worker.

For Graves, marrying the love of his life was something he had to do.

“She’s kind, sweet, funny and truly my best friend,” said Graves. “Under the circumstances we are in, getting married in the hospital was the most perfect place,” said Kendra. “I love him so much I would marry him anywhere. He is so strong. He has handled everything with such ease and understanding.”

Less than 24 hours after the ceremony, Graves was sitting up in bed joking as his brother Ryan fed him biscuits and gravy. IU Health neurologist Dr. Riley Snook checked in on Graves, and his sister Kristen Madren helped fill in details. His family members – including his other sister Kayla Baldonado and his parents – have continually been by his side. They say they’ve gained strength from the courage of their brother . . . their son.

Just days before the wedding his parents learned that Graves had made another commitment – a profession of faith.

“He said he was at peace knowing he would never have to wonder if the leukemia would come back,” said his mom. “He said he was joyful and said he’d see us again when we walk the streets with God,” added his father.

Tags:

CancerLeukemia

Latest Stories

Filter from

August 05, 2020 IU Health files plans for transformative new hospital in downtown Indianapolis INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University Health has outlined plans for a world-class ho... August 04, 2020 Patient donated kidney, received kidney and enjoying fresh start He has a giving heart. So when his brother needed a kidney, Harambee Purnell donated hi... August 03, 2020 IU Health COVID-19 Data IU Health is committed to being a trusted source of information for the public during t... August 03, 2020 Take a trip through the decades at Methodist safety fair CVCC nurses refresh their skills during an annual training event that aims to teach whi... July 31, 2020 Virtual education, coaching leads to diabetes prevention Have you been told you have prediabetes signs and symptoms? IU Health has a plan in pla... July 28, 2020 Nurse is a ‘Teacher’ in a Different Classroom She just completed 30 years at IU Health and Nurse Melissa Coxey is realizing her caree... July 23, 2020 What You Need to Know About E-Cigarettes & Vaping: Your Guide to the Latest Facts Much to tobacco companies' delight, electronic cigarettes and vaping have caught on sin... July 23, 2020 From New York Designer to Andretti Racing: Cancer connects patient to supporters William “Bill” Ramey’s small town spans two Indiana counties. Since his cancer diagnosi... July 20, 2020 Are Addiction and Dependence the Same Thing? A recent study found that a staggering two out of three Hoosiers know someone strugglin... July 16, 2020 Program plans for expansion: No One Dies Alone When it started, there was no pandemic, but there were still patients who were alone in... July 13, 2020 IU Health Arnett Hospital first to perform Percutaneous Closures of PFO and ASD A Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) is a small hole in the heart that did not close the way it... July 10, 2020 Putting the PT in “redePloymenT” During the COVID-19 peak quarantine time, a lot of hardworking healthcare employees all... July 09, 2020 We’re here to support you To You, Our Valued Patients: No matter what’s going on in the world, you deserve to ... July 07, 2020 “Move Up” grant supports team member career growth An IU Health Foundation grant is delivering a double benefit: By helping to equip IU He... July 07, 2020 Working for 30 Years to Correct Racial Inequities When IU Health Foundation announced the creation of a new Racial Equity in Healthcare F... July 06, 2020 Imaging tech has dedicated 37 years with hospital Gay Calloway loves her job with IU Health University Hospital. She has worked at a CT t... July 06, 2020 Many hearts hurting for tragic death of intensive care worker She always wanted to work in a hospital and loved her job at IU Health, in part because... June 30, 2020 Groundbreaking surgery provides relief for debilitating pancreatitis In what is a first for IU Health, and for Indiana, a team of specialists recently compl... June 29, 2020 Tired of isolation? What to do about quarantine fatigue Even as Indiana begins to reopen its doors, many residents remain skeptical and fearful... June 28, 2020 Four Family Members Died; Five Others Tested Positive for COVID-19 They had no idea that a novel virus could spread so quickly. It was the early part of t... June 25, 2020 COVID-19 Update: Safely opening up more access to Primary Care To You, Our Valued Patients: As summer begins, and Indiana continues to make progres... June 25, 2020 Nurse helped injured motorcyclist: “I just did what I needed to do.” She was on her way to her day shift at IU Health University Hospital when she stopped t... June 22, 2020 Coping with dementia: A family affair Your loved one is confused or disoriented. Is it signs of dementia? How you can help. ... June 19, 2020 Dorthy Deckard, RN, provides compassionate care "Dorthy Deckard [is] selfless and serving to her fellow humans, always," wrote Sharon A... June 18, 2020 Hospital in the home helps patients convalesce in comfort A new program at IU Health allows patients to return to the comfort of their homes afte... June 17, 2020 New moms reach out for help as anxiety kicks in “I would just lie in bed while Hannah was sleeping, and my heart would pound and my min... June 16, 2020 Transplant patients take steps toward independence in COLTT program Zelle Crawford gave up a career in engineering for one in physical therapy, and he coul... June 15, 2020 IU Health implementa restricciones actualizadas temporales para los visitantes A partir del 15 de junio, IU Health comenzó a mitigar algunas de las restricciones temp... June 14, 2020 A spectrum of color - Remembering patients entrusted in their care When a patient dies at IU Health, a team of caregivers gathers to remember and honor a ... June 12, 2020 How we’ll be keeping you informed this summer To You, Our Valued Patients: It’s been a long road, but we’re in a new phase. Like y... June 12, 2020 Nurse Norma Wethington leads with compassion Norma Wethington, LPN, leads with compassion toward team members and patients alike. A ... June 11, 2020 Nurse, new father cares for infant son when wife contracts COVID-19 They have a unique situation. One is an IU Health Nurse; the spouse is an IU Health res... June 11, 2020 Public safety workers receive IU Health grant, COVID-19 assistance IU Health and Community Outreach and Engagement awarded nearly $200,000 in emergency gr... June 08, 2020 IU Health to ease temporary visitor restrictions at all hospitals Starting June 15, Indiana University Health will begin relaxing some of the temporary v... June 05, 2020 Patient from Spain receives cancer treatment at IU Health A cancer patient from Spain travels to Indianapolis to receive treatment at IU Health June 05, 2020 Oncology patients receive ongoing support close to home As IU Health continues to focus on safety measures for containing COVID-19, including s... June 05, 2020 Hospice nurse Nancy Koi brings peace to patients and families “Have you ever met someone whose presence brings peace and comfort to any situation?” ... June 05, 2020 Transplant surgeon recovers from COVID-19, donates plasma It was late March when Dr. Andrew Lutz traveled out of the state as part of the organ r... June 04, 2020 A special message from Dennis Murphy, President of IU Health To You, Our Valued Patients: At this time, I know that many of us are hurt, upset, a... June 04, 2020 Critical care physician pays tribute to fellows working the front line of COVID-19 When his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, pulmonary and critical care IU Health D... June 03, 2020 Finding peace while pushing for progress amid civil unrest Addressing systemic racial inequality requires listening without judging and turning pr... June 03, 2020 IU Health COVID-19 data for the West Central Region IU Health is committed to being a trusted source of information for the public during t... June 01, 2020 A message of equity and justice for all from Dennis Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer I know I can never really understand what it’s like to be an African-American ... June 01, 2020 Neufelders’ Gift Expands Care for Abuse, Sexual Assault Victims When IU Health West Central Region President Dan Neufelder and his wife, Jane, learned ... May 29, 2020 Rehabilitation for COVID-19 patients – tiny steps lead to great strides Historically, rehabilitation professionals begin working with critically ill patients a... May 28, 2020 The “next normal”: A message from Dennis Murphy, President of IU Health To You, Our Valued Patients: IU Health has a long record of delivering highly-skille... May 28, 2020 ‘Lottery winner’ seeks to benefit IU Health Curtis Underhill often told people he would hit the lottery one day. Now he feels like ... May 28, 2020 Occupational therapist helps patients regain independence As an occupational therapist on the Home Care team, Shikina Walton spends her days help... May 27, 2020 Critical care physician diagnosed with COVID-19: “Too close for comfort” IU Health Dr. Mark Williams has dedicated most of his life to caring for critically ill... May 27, 2020 This is a team working behind the scenes During an ordinary month, IU Health Home Care Distribution Team members provide the inf... May 26, 2020 How can you maintain your mental, physical health during a pandemic Whether you are isolated, or slowly re-entering the public mainstream, there are a few ... May 21, 2020 We’re committed: A COVID-19 update To You, Our Valued Patients: This week, I want to start by acknowledging your persev... May 21, 2020 How to Support Someone's Mental Health During COVID-19 You sense someone is struggling. Maybe in new ways. Maybe you know why – a job loss or ... May 21, 2020 We double dog dare you not to read this story Puppy love is real as therapy dogs who have been quarantined at home during the pandemi... May 20, 2020 How to Be Sensitive to Your Mental Health During COVID-19 Uncertain times, fear, worry. Those phrases get tossed around, used in commercials, tal... May 20, 2020 How to Cope if COVID-19 Has Canceled a Major Life Event A high school graduation with all its pomp and circumstance. A wedding two years in the... May 20, 2020 Helping loved ones say goodbye When Traci Dodds, RN, went to the home of a new hospice patient late one night to perfo... May 18, 2020 Mother, 24, gave birth to a son, and two days later suffered a stroke If Sarah-Grace Richardson could give any advice to mothers it would be this: “Listen to... May 17, 2020 “She had that will to live for all of us” Schoolchildren send cards and letters to “Grandma Linda” after her double lung transpla... May 16, 2020 ER nurse: “Working the front line has been an honor” Jamie Rehm began her healthcare career working as an EMT and then as an IU Health LifeL... May 14, 2020 How we’re keeping waiting rooms safe for our patients To You, Our Valued Patients: There are hopeful signs that we are reaching a new phas... May 14, 2020 I-70 closures on west side start May 22; east side work continues The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to take advantage of the ongoing traffic... May 13, 2020 Methodist CVCC graduation welcomes new nurses While their schools might have canceled graduation ceremonies this year, seven nurses w... May 13, 2020 Caring for patients like loved ones While the Golden Rule calls for us to “Treat others as you’d like to be treated,” Jayné... May 13, 2020 COVID patients in rehab: Making great strides through personal connections A new initiative at IU Health is focused on a growing need of patient care – aloneness.... May 12, 2020 Keeping Kids Engaged at the Dinner Table There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our daily routines. But one posi... May 11, 2020 Pediatricians worry about the cancellation of well-child visits Children are not the focus of this pandemic, but they should be. Pediatricians are worr... May 11, 2020 Ideas for Staying Healthy During COVID-19 When it comes to healthier living, there’s no better time than the present. With less o... May 10, 2020 Mother Shares Legacy of Daughter’s Dream Job in Nursing By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org Those who knew her we... May 09, 2020 Messages of thanks to IU Health team members on the front lines Decision Support Analysis, Enterprise Business Applications and IU Health Plans Informa... May 08, 2020 Slowly resuming elective procedures, select clinical services and in person Primary Care services The West Central Region of IU Health is slowly resuming elective procedures, select cli... May 08, 2020 Two lifetime friends make pandemic history with kidney transplant They have been friends for more than three decades and when one needed a kidney, the ot... May 07, 2020 A message about safety from Dennis Murphy, President of IU Health To You, Our Valued Patients: After many challenging weeks, early May brings an oppor... May 07, 2020 IU Health pulmonologist recovered from COVID-19: “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone” He was doing his job – working at IU Health Methodist Hospital with lung transplant pat... May 07, 2020 Patient travels from Kuwait to receive specialized care Abdulaziz Alsadiqi traveled from his home country of Kuwait to get treatment for abdomi... May 06, 2020 ICU Nurse: ‘We do our best to stay level headed and positive’ As an intensive care nurse at IU Health Methodist Hospital Morgan Krohne is faced daily... May 05, 2020 Is it Safe to Go Out? Helping Hoosiers Navigate Reopening For many Hoosiers, the slow reopening of our society began this week. In limited capaci... May 05, 2020 How to Get Food Help & How to Help Others During COVID-19 COVID-19 has taught everyone that finding what you need isn’t always easy. But for many... May 03, 2020 Emergency medical professionals collaborate on system for mask disinfection It took a whole lot of expertise and ingenuity but two IU Health medical professionals ... May 01, 2020 Behind the Scenes: Virtual Clinic Team Members First Line of Contact on Front Line Before they get a test, before they enter the emergency room or a doctor’s office, many... April 30, 2020 Dealing with Grief & Loss During COVID-19 Pandemic Grieving is never easy. It can be long and difficult and raw. But when life was “normal... April 30, 2020 Good news from Dennis Murphy, President of IU Health To You, Our Valued Patients: Thank you for your continued confidence and trust in IU... April 30, 2020 Occupational therapist helps patients regain independence As an occupational therapist on the Home Care team, Shikina Walton spends her days help... April 29, 2020 Sweet dreams? Not for everyone Virus fears are messing with our sleep, but we can take steps to quiet our minds.By Mau... April 28, 2020 Transplant manager says goodbye virtually Donna Ennis is leaving Methodist after nearly a half-century of compassionate care, fir... April 27, 2020 Sacrifice is at the heart of Katy Howe’s commitment to family, patients Imagine being a single mother of four, managing an emergency department at a hospital a... April 26, 2020 It’s OK to not be OK right now Methodist and Riley chaplains say feelings of grief – over lost lives, lost jobs, a los... April 25, 2020 Jan’s travel memoirs: Patient winds her way across country in an RV She came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center for treatment of kidney cancer and Jan Roth p... April 25, 2020 Hospital chaplain helps stage virtual birthday party for 80-year-old patient When you’ve lived eight decades and you’re in a hospital without family members, you do... April 24, 2020 COVID-19 FAQs for Pregnancy & Childbirth Updated July 6, 2020As an expectant mother you may have a little more anxiety these day... April 24, 2020 Transplant manager joins forces to help COVID-19 patients, families After nearly 30 years working with IU Health’s Transplant Program, Linda Munsch has tem... April 23, 2020 An update from Dennis Murphy, President of IU Health, on how we’re prioritizing your care and safety To You, Our Valued Patients: Rest assured that in times like these, Indiana Univer... April 23, 2020 Social worker who knows what it’s like to be hungry, helps feed homebound Lora Millsaps knows what it’s like to be stuck at home with little to no food. She also... April 22, 2020 ‘Enough to make my Poppy feel better’ Last fall, as she sat near her grandfather Robert Metzinger’s hospital bed, Lilly Grace... April 21, 2020 Connecting patients and visitors at IU Health White Memorial Even with stringent visitor restrictions in place for the safety of the patients and th... April 21, 2020 Connecting patients and visitors at IU Health Arnett Even with strict visitor restrictions in place for the safety of the patients and the c... April 21, 2020 Connecting patients and visitors at IU Health Frankfort Hospital Even with stringent visitor restrictions in place for the safety of the patients and th... April 21, 2020 Kudos to Kate: A LifeLine nurse transporting critical patients during COVID-19 Every day is a learning experience for Kate Pedigo. Now with so many unknown factors ab... April 20, 2020 Nurse and her young kids keep their distance during health crisis IU Health North emergency department nurse has lived apart from her family for several ... April 18, 2020 COVID-19 putting addiction recovery at risk. Peer counselor: “Reach out” It’s a scary time and people around the globe are searching for ways to cope. With thos...