WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Daniel Pecoraro and Lisa Siegel weren’t supposed to get married on a Monday.
But from his hospital bed on Nov. 7, Pecoraro decided that day was going to be the happiest day of their lives.
He had been admitted to HCA Florida JFK Hospital in Atlantis three days earlier with chest pains — only to learn he needed triple-bypass surgery just a few days before the couple’s planned wedding ceremony.
“So I said, ‘Let’s get married right now. Call the rabbi and get him up here,’ ” Pecoraro remembered. “We had the marriage license, and I didn’t want to let it go to waste.”
The wedding was hastily put together, but the marriage surely wasn’t. Siegel and Pecoraro had been engaged for eight years and were planning a quaint ceremony at his mother’s home in Boynton Beach with a large dinner afterward at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa.
Then everything changed.
Pecoraro, a 55-year-old science teacher at L.C. Swain Middle School in Greenacres, started having chest pain on Nov. 4 while he was running between meetings at school.
“I started feeling shooting pain in my arm,” he remembered, recognizing the pain from a few days earlier. “I talked to the secretary, who told me I’d better take it seriously.”
After he went to the hospital, Pecoraro learned an artery in his heart was letting through only 10% of the blood it was supposed to — causing him chest pain and threatening his life. Triple bypass was the only option, and it was put on the calendar for three days before his planned nuptials.
Although doctors across the U.S. perform nearly 500,000 coronary bypass surgeries each year with a success rate of around 98%, Pecoraro knew that recovery from the surgery would take weeks.
“I won’t be back at work for six to eight weeks, and I can’t drive for eight weeks,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to stand or participate in the wedding ceremony.”
That’s when he decided to pop the question (again), and ask Siegel, a 48-year-old jewelry business owner, if she’d exchange vows in the hospital chapel.
“I said it was a great idea,” she remembered. “I said, ‘I do!’ ”
Nurses, hospital staff decorate chapel for emergency wedding
The couple planned to head down to the chapel to have a small ceremony with their parents. Then, they’d return to Pecoraro’s room to eat cookies from his mother and toast their marriage.
But the hospital staff had other plans.
Nurses, caregivers and others 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 well wishes.
“It was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe how beautiful they made it,” Siegel, whose last name is now Pecoraro, said of the space.
The bride wore a white blouse and carried a small bouquet of colored daisies. The groom, trailed by his IV, wore a boutonniere pinned to his blue plaid long-sleeve shirt. The couple’s rabbi married them in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
There was no time for a honeymoon.
Pecoraro went off for surgery Nov. 10 and spent his original wedding day recovering in the hospital.
There were no complications with the procedure, and he’s expected to be home well before Thanksgiving.
How emergency surgery changed one teacher’s outlook (but not his homework policy)
But the unexpected surgery will still mark his life in other ways.
After 18 years teaching seventh-graders at L.C. Swain, Pecoraro said he’ll deeply miss his students over the holidays. He runs the school’s coin collecting club and was looking forward to an annual rock cutting and polishing lab he has students do in December.
“I won’t see my kids again until spring break,” he said. “They’re not going to take it so good.”
But he said the surprise surgery and wedding have reinforced his optimistic outlook on life.
“That’s what life’s all about. It turns at the drop of a dime,” he said. “I know to always look for the positive.”
And that also means that no matter what changes, L.C. Swain students should continue doing their homework.