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This is a story about love, compassion, and the power of unity to overcome adversity.
At the young age of 17, Larry's life took an unexpected turn the day before starting an apprenticeship as a technician with Telstra. Larry dived into shallow water during a fishing trip. His miscalculation of the depth left him quadriplegic – permanently altering the course of his future.
Fast forward to 2002, Teresa met Larry. Having also faced her own recent tragedy, where she had lost her husband whom she worked with in the Air Force as a nurse, the two quickly became good friends.
While they had both been surrounded by loving families, both Larry and Teresa had experienced profound loneliness in their own journeys and became supports for each other.
As the years rolled by, a unique bond developed between Larry and Teresa. They found solace in playing computer games together, embarking on small adventures, and engaging in heartfelt conversations about the wonders of life. Larry rarely dwelled on the life he had missed out on; instead, focusing on his dreams and aspirations - including his desire to travel.
“I would take him out to places that no one else was able to take him – difficult because of the wheelchair,” says Teresa.
One day, Larry mustered up the courage to invite Teresa to a dinner in town. While sharing meals had become a regular occurrence for them, this time, Larry asked if she would attend as his girlfriend. Teresa was delighted to accept the invitation.
“It was a very romantic evening at Crown, with lobster, prawns and was just beautiful.”
Over the next two decades as a bona fide couple, the two shared a life based on love, mutual respect, and care. Teresa continued to care for Larry as they journeyed around Australia, embracing the adventures of life.
In 2023, Larry's health began to rapidly decline. Battling end-stage liver disease, he was admitted to the 3-North Victorian Spinal Cord Service at the Austin Hospital.
Aware that time was slipping away, Teresa spoke to Larry at his bedside. She asked, "You have travelled Australia twice, conquered countless obstacles — what else would you like to accomplish in this life?" Larry took a moment to reflect before confessing, "I've never been married."
Before Teresa could respond, and not wanting another moment of life to go by wasted, Larry said “now.”
Teresa said ‘yes’ and approached their social worker to discuss how they could begin the process.
Typically for a couple to be wed, forms need to be signed, submitted, processed, and will usually have to wait for up to four weeks. But this was no typical scenario.
After speaking with Rita, Spinal Social Work Team Leader and Pastoral Care teams worked together into the night to organise what they could.
“I’ve worked in Spinal Care for 20 years and this is the first time we’ve organised a wedding on the ward,” said Rita.
The bureaucratic hurdles that typically accompany weddings seemed insurmountable, but the compassionate staff at the Austin Hospital were undeterred.
Armed with their unwavering commitment and the Austin’s pooled resources, Larry and Teresa exchanged vows on the 3-North ward as Reverend Stephen Delbridge presided over the ceremony, 26 hours after Larry's spontaneous proposal.
“That day, there was a real buzz on the ward. Jacinta – one of our ANUMs brought in flowers – it was a real privilege to be able to be a part of it.”
Teresa cherishes the memories of that day, not only the wedding itself but also the incredible people who surrounded them. “The staff at the Austin are excellent, especially Rita and the Reverend. They really do have hearts of gold,” says Teresa.
As Larry embraces the twilight of his life, his unwavering positivity continues to shine through.
Despite the physical losses he endured, he refuses to dwell on what might have been. Instead, he treasures the accomplishments he has achieved and the moments of happiness he has experienced. "I've had a good life," Larry says, a testament to his resilience and unwavering spirit.
Larry and Teresa's story teaches us to embrace the present, find joy in the smallest of victories, and cherish the relationships that bring light into our lives. Their love story, filled with hope and boundless determination, reminds us that true happiness can be found even in the face of adversity.