Parents

Couple arranges early wedding at hospital so dying dad can give bride away

Candice Hammonds wanted to make sure her ailing dad was with her on her wedding day.

So after learning last week that he only had days to live, the 29-year-old and her fiance, Thomas Burkett, 38, who had planed to marry on Oct. 1, rushed to say their vows at his hospital bedside.

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Couple, hospital arrange early wedding so bride's dying dad can say goodbye

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"It meant the world to me to have my dad be a part of that day,'' Hammonds told TODAY. "It's something every girl dreams of."

Staffers at Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Georgia, played a big role organizing the Aug. 31 event, which came together in less than 24 hours.

The hospital allowed the family to use a room in the outpatient surgery area, and immediate family and close friends gathered for the ceremony. They also covered up Steve's ventilator with sheets and reduced his medication so he would be lucid for the ceremony.

Hammonds' cousin, Alicia Maddox, helped pull everything together in such a short time, including the reception and getting a wedding cake.

"Candice told me my uncle wasn't doing well and that she wanted to get married in front of him a day later, so I said, 'Let's do it,''' Maddox told TODAY. "It was absolutely beautiful. It was perfect."

"Everything just fell right into place,'' Hammonds said. "It was an act of God, a miracle that it happened."

Maddox also reached out to her good friend, wedding photographer Julie Schandolph, to see if she could come by to capture the emotional event.

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"There was no way I could've turned it down,'' Schandolph told TODAY. "The room was just filled with so much emotion and love. It was bittersweet, but Candice's dad was still able to have that special moment with her."

When the pastor asked who was giving the bride away, Steve, who had his wife, Teresa, by his side, raised his hand.

"It's just been a roller coaster of emotions,'' Hammonds said. "I'm marrying the man of my dreams but I'm also sad about losing my father. But I'm so thankful God allowed my father to be there with us and interact with us the way that he did."

Steve died two days later from pneumonia. He'd been battling a rare autoimmune disease known as sarcoidosis, which he had been diagnosed with two years earlier.

"We're just really grateful that the family let us in on this sacred moment in their lives,'' Upson Regional Medical Center CEO Tripp Penn told TODAY.

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"That is a huge milestone in the life of a person and to have it come together in that setting and allow him to be part of that special day was just incredible.''

"It just showed that there's much more to getting married than just material things, and that's family,'' Schandolph said.

With permission from the couple, Schandolph posted touching photos of the ceremony on Facebook with a heartfelt note about the preciousness of life.

"I don't think I have ever experienced so much love and emotion in one room,'' she wrote. "The way that this family came together in such short time for this bedside wedding amazed me!"

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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