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Latrobe hospital hosts nuptials as groom keeps mom close to his heart

| Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Excela Latrobe Hospital patient Anna Mae Kern (center) of Donegal is escorted by her son Adam (second from left) of Indian Head and future daughter-in-law Ashley Leighty (right) of Indian Head en route to a wedding ceremony for the couple in a chapel at the hospital in Latrobe on August 23, 2013. Anna Mae was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and is now receiving chemotherapy for an illness secondary to breast cancer.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Indian Head residents Adam Kern (left) and Ashley Leighty (middle) celebrate their wedding ceremony in the Excela Latrobe Hospital chapel in Latrobe on August 23, 2013.

Adam Kern, 31, knew he wanted to marry Ashley Leighty, 27, the day he met her.

He proposed last year, and the Indian Head residents had planned to get married soon.

When Kern's mother's health took a downturn, they planned their wedding in less than a week.

On Friday, Anna Mae Kern, 63, of Donegal, a patient at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital, watched the couple exchange vows in the hospital chapel.

“Life is so short,” Kern said. “I wanted her to see it.”

Family members and hospital staff prepared a ceremony and reception at the hospital to ensure Kern's mother could be a part of the couple's milestone.

Anna Mae Kern was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. It went into remission in 2009. The cancer returned in 2011, causing her to get a mastectomy. She is receiving chemotherapy for a secondary illness, and she was hospitalized last week when her condition worsened.

Her son and Leighty, who met at the Laurel Mountain Inn, west of Somerset, “were just winging it” with wedding plans, Kern said.

“We had thought about doing it soon, but as soon as we found out mom was getting sick, we just automatically jumped everything up,” he said.

The Rev. Timothy and Darla Bunney, family friends, suggested the hospital nuptials. Kern approached nurse Carrie Polo, 36, of Unity, over the weekend about the idea.

Polo, who had never encountered such a request, collaborated with various hospital departments — including housekeeping, dietary and escort — to make it happen. “It's been a team effort to make this day special for her,” Polo said.

Staff decorated the chapel with pink and purple flowers and silver balloons. By the door, they placed a table with a framed print of Corinthians 13:4. (“Love is patient. ... Love never fails,” it says.)

About 2 p.m., Kern and Leighty helped the mother of the groom down the hallway by holding each side of her wheelchair, decorated with white crepe-paper streamers and a red paper heart. Family members followed them into the chapel.

With the soft notes of Johann Pachelbel's “Canon” playing from a small white stereo, Anna Mae Kern raptly watched as her new daughter-in-law, clad in a white cotton sundress, approached her son, wearing a striped, button-down shirt and jeans.

Bunney presided over the ceremony, bringing tears to the eyes of family members and hospital staff.

After the couple exchanged rings and promised their love to each other, staff greeted them outside the chapel with a flurry of bubble-blowing. Mr. and Mrs. Kern stood in the hallway, smooching for cameras, as they waited for the mother of the groom to accompany them to a reception in the hospital lobby.

“There's my son! There they are!” she said as she turned the corner in her wheelchair. “There's my family.”

The family enjoyed a vanilla and chocolate cake and fruit punch, courtesy of the hospital.

Kern said it “meant everything” to have his mother there.

“Words can't describe how it makes me feel,” his wife said. “She's such an amazing woman. ... She's the greatest.”

Three weeks ago, Anna Mae Kern had the opportunity to see her daughter Crystal Belcher, 23, get married in Lynchburg, Va.

“I'm proud of Adam and all that he's done,” said Belcher, who attended the wedding. “He's been a great big brother, always taking care of me and mom. I was just so happy for her because she just saw me get married, and she was afraid she wouldn't get to buy my dress with me, but she got to do that. She was afraid she wouldn't even get to come to my wedding, and she did, and now Adam's wedding.”

Polo said the afternoon was a “great experience.”

“I'm just glad we could make it happen,” she said, choking back tears. “We don't know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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