Ira and Shirley Bostic took their marriage vow, especially the part about “in sickness and in health,” to heart — literally.
They were married in the intensive care unit at Lancaster General Hospital the day before Ira underwent open heart surgery.
“I wanted to get married before the surgery just in case anything happened to me,” says Ira, 67. “I thought I was going to die.”
Ira, who has a history of heart trouble and had a defibrillator implanted in 2010, had a heart attack on Feb. 16.
He was admitted to Lancaster General and scheduled for bypass surgery.
“It was bad,” says Shirley. “They had me call immediate family and let everyone know.”
Ira and Shirley have been together for 22 years. They met when both worked at the former Anderson Pretzel plant in New Holland.
“He asked me out just about every day,” says the former Shirley Hillard, who was coming out of an abusive marriage and wasn’t ready to date right away.
After the couple had known each other for a while, however, Shirley hosted a New Year’s Eve party. She invited Ira and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We’ve been together ever since,” she says.
Marriage was never a priority for the couple, Ira says, until his health took a turn for the worse.
“We had talked about getting married before, but we didn’t do it for a number of reasons,” he says.
Shirley agrees, adding, “For more than 20 years it was just a piece of paper to us, but this made us realize it’s much more than that. This changed everything for us.”
Once Ira knew he needed surgery, he asked Shirley to marry him and the couple contacted Lancaster General Hospital resident chaplain Tim Patterson.
“I met with them,” Patterson says, “and said in so many words, ‘Why now? What’s pushing you along? “Their answer was, ‘Because we love each other and we want to face this together.’ “
Patterson told the couple they couldn’t get married without a license but blessed them and began helping Shirley start the process for a license.
It turned out to be harder than expected.
“Lancaster County requires both people to be present for the license, and they won’t go off site,” Patterson says.
With Ira in the intensive care unit, traveling to the courthouse wasn’t an option.
Patterson tried the clerk of Orphans’ Court, who issues licenses, in Dauphin County and found out they would go off site, but not as far as Lancaster. It was suggested Patterson contact the office in Schuylkill County.
“The woman I spoke to there was happy to do it,” Patterson says.
She made the drive from Pottsville to Lancaster to issue the license to the couple in the hospital room.
With their license in hand, Ira and Shirley focused on other wedding details. They made arrangements with the hospital chapel to have the ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 28.
They worked with the hospital food service department to select a wedding meal — steak, baked potatoes and salad — and even had a small wedding cake from the hospital bakery.
“It was just great how everyone came together in the hospital to make this happen,” Patterson says. “It was a real team effort.”
Shirley went shopping for a ring with the help of a neighbor, and picked out a black velvet dress to wear for the ceremony.
Ira’s son, Sanford, who lives in Utah, planned to Skype with his dad during the ceremony, but ended up surprising the couple by flying in for the wedding.
Everything was going as planned. Until it wasn’t.
Ira suddenly had to have a procedure on Sunday afternoon. The 6 p.m. wedding seemed like it might not happen.
Ira, however, wasn’t deterred.
“I was getting married Sunday night no matter what,” he says.
Going to the chapel wasn’t an option anymore, and the couple had to have their meal before the ceremony, but the wedding went off as planned, just in a slightly different venue.
“The ICU really rolled out the red carpet,” Patterson says. “I’ve never seen an ICU room with so many people stuffed in it.”
Shirley estimates they had 20 friends and family members in the room, ranging in age from 16 to 70.
Ira’s son bought his dad a hat and bow tie to wear for the ceremony.
It was perfect, Ira and Shirley say. Their only regret was that Bear, their bulldog mix, couldn’t be with them for the ceremony.
“They really didn’t mind the changes they had to make,” Patterson says. “Going to the chapel for the ceremony would have been icing on the cake to them. They just wanted to get married. That was the important thing for them.”
And, Shirley jokes, Feb. 28 was the perfect date for the wedding because it also was her 62nd birthday.
“Now if he forgets my birthday, he’s going to forget our anniversary, too, so he’ll really be in trouble,” she laughs.
Ira’s bypass surgery went well and he was discharged from Lancaster General on March 9.
He’s undergoing physical therapy and has started taking walks around the block with Shirley and Bear.
In June, the couple plans to travel to the Poconos for a honeymoon, although Ira is pragmatic about being newlyweds.
“We’ve lived together for 22 years, so there’s not too much to discover about each other at this point,” he laughs.
In July, the Bostics plan to take a two-week trip to Utah to visit Ira’s son and his family.
Once he’s fully recovered, Ira hopes to get back to doing what he loves sharing with Shirley — taking walks, going for long drives and dancing at local social clubs.
“It’s going to be a little while until I can dance again,” he says, “but when I can, we’ll have our wedding dance.”