Photography by Steve O'Donnell » Clermont and Orlando award winning professional wedding, portrait, senior and family photographer serving central FL

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My first wedding shoot and my wife’s battle for her life.

It’s taken me almost 9 months to tell this story but I feel it’s finally time.  I don’t think I could possibly put the entire story into words surrounding the hours around my wife’s actual surgery, or the 10 days spent in the hospital due to complications, or the moments of waiting for her to wake up.  Luckily  Orlando Health,  the hospital system she happens to work for, decided to do a short 7 minute documentary on the events that led up to her surgery, the event of her dying after the surgery for 30 minutes, and the fight of her life to actually be with us here today.  Three days before my first official wedding shoot as a photographer my wife Lee was scheduled to undergo elective open heart surgery in order to fix a birth defect that had her heart wired for sudden death.  Being a perfectly fit and healthy young woman, the prognosis of anything possibly going wrong was between a 1-3% chance.  Little did anyone suspect the events that took place the day of her surgery.  So, why is this story on a photography blog?  In the midst of the event that occurred, I had my first wedding shoot.  As others have already seen the video scolded me for not warning them I would suggest grabbing a box of tissues and watching the video before reading any further.  It is a truly inspirational story of being there for family, of what the power of prayer can do, and the importance of family and love.

Now that you’ve watched the video you have a good idea of what my wife went through.  What the video doesn’t describe is that after she was revived from her 30 minutes of cardiac arrest and her second open heart surgery, her surgical team took drastic measures to combat the possibility of her being severly brain damaged.  The doctors had no way of telling just how much oxygen got to her brain during the 30 minutes of being dead, after all, she had just been closed up from her first surgery and they couldn’t do heavy chest compressions on her as they typically would.  So, the next step was lowering her core body temperature down to 91 deegrees in order to give her organs a chance to rest.  It took a few hours to prepare her body for the “freezing” and a few hours to get her temperature that low.  Once 91 degrees was reached she would remain in a cold comma like state for 24 hours, and then her team of doctors would slowly warm her up to a normal temperature at a rate of 1/2 degree every two hours which would take a total of 16 hours.  After that, it was a waiting game for her to wake up, and to see just what kind of wife and mother our family would have back.  As I said in the video, the doctors were preparing me for the worst and they were informing me that she may not even know her name when she came out of it.   The timeline put her “thawing out” smack dab in the middle of my first wedding I was scheduled to shoot.  I had roughly 12 hours left to inform Tara and Simon, my bride and groom, if I would or would not be there to shoot their wedding.  I was in no shape to find them a new photographer with everything going on surrounding my wife, and with 12 hours left I doubted that I could.   My wife and I discussed me cancelling the wedding way before her surgery, but we both figured since she was so young and in great health, she would be awake and in the recovery by the time of the wedding.  So, with my wife under the care of the best surgical team the hospital had, and her brother and my best friend Eric by her side, I forged on to shoot my first wedding.

I’ll be totally transparent and honest.  Shooting your first wedding as the primary shooter let alone doing it while your wife is in the hospital fighting for her life, and exhausted from 2 days of practically no sleep and worrying, is very nerve racking.  I had my good friend and fellow photographer Daunte Duphorne tag along as backup incase I should get a phone call from the hospital and need to leave as well as second shooter.  The morning of the wedding I dressed in wedding attire, packed up my photography equipment and headed to the hospital to spend the morning by my wifes side.  When it came time for the wedding I left the hospital and headed straight to the location where the bride and her maids were preparing for the day, picking up a bite to eat along the way.  Beside a few last minute changes in the wedding schedule including the brides dress showing up an hour late and a fairly large rain and ligtning storm that blew in on the ceremony location immediately following the ceremony which hampered formal shots, the shoot went pretty well.  Below are a few of my favorite moments from Tara and Simons wedding, my first wedding shoot at Tanner Hall in Winter Garden.

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