Granting a last wish

June 14th, 2017
George Neurberger, hooked up to oxygen, sits in his hospital bed with his son, George III and his new wife.
George Neuberger Jr., who is struggling with lung cancer, achieved his goal of seeing his son, George III get married. George Jr. could not leave to attend the wedding, so hospital staffers brought the wedding to him. In the hospital chapel, he toasts the newlyweds, Jenna and George Neuberger. Photo by UCHealth.

When George Neuberger Jr., 59, was admitted to University of Colorado Hospital five weeks ago, his doctors had to deliver sad news. Along with a severe blood clot in his leg, he had lung cancer, which had spread to his bones.

George told them they must be wrong.

“I don’t have cancer. I have a wedding to go to,” he said with a sly smile.

George’s oldest son, George Neuberger III, 32, was set to marry his fiancée, Jenna Prewitt, 25, on June 17.

Cancer has made it tough for George to breathe and he’s losing weight fast. He’s in critical condition. But excitement about three special days this month has been keeping him alive.

“I was hoping for a trifecta. My birthday is June 16. The wedding is June 17. And Father’s Day is June 18,” George said.

He asked his caregivers if they would allow him to travel to George and Jenna’s wedding in Genesee. Unfortunately, he’s too ill to leave the hospital.

So instead, a team of nurses, social workers, chaplains and respiratory therapists worked with George’s family to cook up a surprise for George.

On Tuesday morning, nurses dressed George in a suit coat over his hospital gown, rigged up his oxygen and medications and wheeled him down in his bed to the hospital chapel. Some of George’s nurses, who had just completed a night shift, raced home and changed into summery dresses, then returned to the hospital. Others joined a teary audience in scrubs. Votive candles lined a short aisle in the chapel. A stained-glass window provided a beautiful backdrop while a guitarist played and sang. Waiting for George, Jr. was his son, dressed in a suit and wearing a boutonniere with peach roses. Jenna stood by his side in a simple, cream-colored sleeveless gown with sparkly rhinestones around her waist. She carried a matching bouquet and was joined by her mother and sister.

If George couldn’t come to the wedding, then the wedding would come to George.

Nurse Tiffanie Miller says goodbye to her patient, George Neuberger Jr. as he sits in his hospital bed.
Nurse Tiffanie Miller says goodbye to her patient, George Neuberger Jr. after his son’s wedding in the hospital chapel. Miller worked the night shift, went home to put on dressy clothes, then returned to the hospital for the wedding. A team of hospital staff members helped Neuberger’s family surprise him with the wedding. Photo by UCHealth.

The nurses had told George only that he was getting a surprise. When he entered the chapel, he looked around stunned, then grinned as tears spilled from his eyes.

“It’s unbelievable. Fantastic,” George said.

Family friend, Terren Wise, a minister at Shiloh Christian Church in Fort Collins, led the couple in their vows. Everyone wept.

“Both of you have felt love and have known love because of the people in this room,” Wise told George and Jenna. “Marriage and life don’t always go the way we plan, hope or expect. So grow in your love, because that is what gets you through those times.”

Afterward, the family members shared a toast and George pronounced himself thrilled.

“I accomplished what I wanted. I actually made it to the wedding.”

George’s wife, Lyny Neuberger, said she has been overwhelmed in recent weeks by both joy and sorrow.

Her husband was rarely sick and almost never goes to the doctor. But on May 10, he had a sore leg and a swollen foot. He went to his doctor in Aurora, who said he needed to go straight to an emergency room.

The ambulance brought them to University of Colorado Hospital. Lyny has been grateful every day since.

“For cancer, this is the place,” Lyny said. “It has been an amazing experience: the nurses, the care, the food, even the parking guy who makes sure I’m OK.”

She has been deeply touched by the kindness staff members have shown her husband and family.

“Who else would have done this?” she said looking around at vases of cheery yellow sunflowers and purple irises, the bridal bouquet and a chocolate wedding cake, all provided — along with soothing live music — by hospital staffers.

Lyny marveled at caretakers who had morphed into wedding planners to give their family a special memory.

While she’s sad about George’s illness, she wants to share an important message about how to live. Both she and her husband have been smokers for years.

“When we were young, (smoking) was a rite of passage,” she said. “We knew (it was bad for our health), but it’s so hard to quit.”

Her advice now: “don’t ever start.”

Her husband smoked a cigarette on the way to the doctor’s office. Then as Lyny said, “he went straight from his desk to his deathbed.”

Jenna and George III said their decision to get married in the hospital was an easy one. Jenna lost her own father to cancer two years ago and learned some powerful lessons: “Life is short. Take it on and embrace what comes.”

The couple will go ahead with their second wedding ceremony on Saturday and will stream it via Skype to George’s hospital room.

Nurses who adore him will be by his side.

“We’ve gotten to know Mr. Neuberger very well. They’re an amazing family,” said Emma Muehlberg, one of his nurses on the Medical-Surgical Progressive Care Unit. “One of his last wishes was fulfilled here at the hospital.”

Asked what he’s wishing for now, George said, “I’ve already got it. All three of my boys are happy and married.”

Update: We are sad to report that George Neuberger died on Thursday. Friends of the Neuberger family have created a GoFundMe campaign to help cover medical expenses. Please click here to donate.

 

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.