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Queens couple of 40 years tie the knot in their hospital room as their dying wish

Apr. 3, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan

Sitting side by side in two hospital beds pushed together, Philip Baldi and Donna Johnson exchanged vows and rings at LIJ Forest Hills Hospital as their final wish. 

The couple has been together for over 40 years, but never legally tied the knot despite their commitment. But after lengthy hospital stays for both of them, they individually expressed their desire to commemorate their love with a ceremony in their final phase of life. 

While a legal wedding was not possible, staff members sprang into action to arrange a special ceremony in honor of their wishes. With just a couple days’ notice, the hospital’s staff and volunteers in the Forest Hills community worked together to organize the wedding, which also coincided with Johnson’s 74th birthday. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the couple’s room was decorated with special touches as doctors and nurses filled up the space to watch the ceremony unfold. The outfits, rings and a bouquet for the special day were picked out by Veterans volunteers with the Forest Hills American Legion Continental Post.

The couple exchanged rings donated by a local veterans group in Forest Hills. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The ceremony was led by Greg Szempruch, Director of Financial Operations at LIJ, who has officiated weddings in the past. He stood before the couple and helped them recite their vows after recounting their story to the guests.

“We honor their commitments with each other and rejoice in the bond they have nurtured through life’s joys and challenges,” he said. “Over the course of their time together, they have woven a tapestry of love, laughter and memories. Their bond strengthened by countless moments that they have spent together, hand in hand navigating life’s beautiful journey.”

The bride was clad in a blue and white paisley dress, matching jewelry and a white top that evoked a veil and tied the look together. The groom, 77, wore a suit over crisp white shirt, a pink tie and a matching pocket square. In his jacket pocket was a Dollar coin placed by the volunteers who picked out the outfits as a token for good luck.

“I promise to love you deeply and passionately forever, and ever, and ever,” Baldi said during the ceremony, putting his own twist on his vows. 

“To be by your side through every twist and turn… I promise to… I just love you,” Johnson said, in a struggle to repeat her vows. 

After the couple exchanged rings, the hospital’s chaplain Father Radu Titonea, read the prayer of engagement and bestowed the couple with his blessings. “This is something that’s spiritually a very important thing,” he said. 

The couple’s son, Kevin Becker, was the only family member who attended the ceremony. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The couple met as teenagers at a house party in Jackson Heights hosted by Baldi’s cousin. He asked her out then and there, which began a decades-long commitment as the couple shared their life across various Queens neighborhoods, from Jackson Heights, to Elmhurst to Corona over their years together. 

“I’m very happy for them. It’s been a long time coming. They should’ve done it long long ago,” said Kevin Becker, their son. 

After the ceremony that brought together over a dozen staff members, the couple celebrated their new communion privately with a specially prepared meal, sparkling cider and a cake together in their room. 

Next week they are set to be transferred to a retirement home on Long Island where they will carry out their final days together. 

“I just hope that the joy we had in the past will continue into the future,” said Baldi. 

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