The day after Jack Kane was told he had just weeks to live he got the nurses to lift him out of his wheelchair and put him down on one knee to propose to his partner Emma Clarke.
Eight days later after a whirlwind of planning, the bride and groom were married in the chapel at The James Cook University Hospital, surrounded by close friends and family.
But the story doesn’t end there…
For what doctors thought was a cancerous tumour on Jack’s spine is now suspected to be a very rare neurological condition called Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) which is also known as Devic’s disease.
And as Jack gave his emotional speech at the couple’s wedding reception in Billingham Synthonia Club, he was able to deliver the best wedding gift to his delighted guests – the news he wasn’t terminally ill.
It has been a rollercoaster journey for the 23-year-old who, in the space of three months, has gone from working full-time and enjoying the odd game of field hockey as a goalkeeper to losing the use of his legs with the uncertainty he will ever be able to walk again.
“I woke up with huge back pain between the shoulder blades and, of course, left it for a week as I suspected a trapped nerve. Every time I moved my neck I was getting shooting pins and needles and hypersensitivity down my legs,” he said.
What followed over the coming weeks were several doctors’ appointments with a number of diagnoses given from a trapped nerve and allergic reactions to depression or mental illness.
Jack then took a turn for the worse on a family cruise to America and Mexico, spending the entire week dragging his right leg and with agonising pain in his back. The day after arriving home he was rushed to the University Hospital of North Tees after collapsing in the bathroom.
“I was admitted to the spinal ward and had an emergency MRI scan but was subsequently discharged home with a referral letter for neurology,” he said.
As his condition worsened, Jack was forced to use crutches and on waking up one morning to find he couldn’t move, was admitted to The James Cook University Hospital by his GP practice.
“On the Monday (October 9) I came into hospital I was really ill… I couldn’t move and was in so much pain that they gave me morphine. By Wednesday I’d lost the use of my legs completely and also had loss of sensation in my hands.”
Following further tests and multiple MRI scans which indicated a tumour on the spine, Jack and Emma were given the devastating news that he was looking at a couple of months, if not weeks, to live.
“It was Friday the 13th ironically but when the news sinks in you’ve got just a few weeks to live, I looked at Emma and thought ‘let’s do this’,” he said.
“I was always going to marry her – we’ve known each other for nearly ten years and have been together for the last three. From the day I first met her I knew I wanted to be with her…
“So I got my mum to get the ring and the nurses put me down on one knee to propose. We were married eight days later – why waste any time?”
With family and friends in full swing trying to sort out a wedding, Jack was preparing himself for a spinal biopsy, involving surgery, but on the day of the procedure a scan revealed the tumour was reducing.
Further tests and treatment including more scans, a lumbar puncture and five days of Intravenous Immuoglobulin led to the news that Jack’s condition was more likely to be NMO although clinicians are still working on a definite diagnosis.
On 23 October, Jack and Emma tied the knot in the hospital’s chapel after the stunning bride – dressed in a beautiful white gown – was walked down the corridor by her dad and four-year-old daughter Lola.
After the ceremony, and a few hours rest back on ward 27, the happy couple attended their wedding reception at Billingham Synthonia Club, with Jack on strict orders to be back at the hospital by 10pm. He was late, of course, as he couldn’t get a taxi!
And while the couple might have to wait a while for a honeymoon, they have been overwhelmed by the love and support they have received from everybody.
Emma, who is also 23, said: “The love, support and strength we’ve received from family, friends and people who just heard we were getting married has been absolutely overwhelming.
“Everyone came together from making food to being gifted the room for our wedding reception. My mum works in the cath labs at the hospital and the staff there supplied us with the wedding cake while the staff on the ward filled Jack’s room with confetti and congratulation banners – some were even at the chapel.
“We really can’t thank everyone enough who have been there for us and also helped to make our day so amazing.”
“No-one asks to be in this position – what we’ve gone through these last few weeks people don’t go through in a life time – but we stay strong for each other. If Jack’s having a bad day I’ll pick him up and if I’m down, he’s there for me – we’re best friends.”
While Jack remains in hospital receiving further treatment and physiotherapy, both he and Emma are optimistic about the future and are currently trying for a baby through IVF treatment.
Accounts Manager Jack said: “My legs may never come back but there are people worse off than me. I won’t be beaten by something I can’t see. I don’t feel ill – I just can’t walk.
“The staff on ward 27 have also been truly amazing right from the beginning – if you’ve a question to ask or if you just need someone there to put a hand on your shoulder, they are there for you. We class them as family.”