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Couple marries in the NICU, beside preemie daughter's crib

They were planning a beach wedding in Okinawa, Japan, but when their daughter was born premature, their plans changed.
/ Source: TODAY

When planning for a wedding or a baby, it's a good idea to expect the unexpected.

For Rubia Ferreira and Tyler Campbell, neither their upcoming nuptials nor the birth of their daughter, Kaelin, went as planned.

The couple met in Okinawa, Japan, where Campbell was stationed with the Marines, and learned Ferreira was pregnant, due in February 2018. On a visit to Campbell's hometown of Jasper, Alabama in November 2017, Ferreira began experiencing abdominal pain. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) hospital, Ferreira was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome — a life-threatening pregnancy complication — and was told she needed an emergency C-section.

Tyler Campbell and Rubia Ferreira married in the UAB NICU on Valentine's Day beside their daughter, Kaelin's, NICU crib.University of Alabama at Birmingham

Baby Kaelin Maria was delivered at just over 24 weeks, leading to a lengthy stay in the hospital's NICU and delaying their plans to get married in Japan.

"We originally wanted to get married in Okinawa after the birth, so we always knew that our baby would be present at our wedding," Campbell told TODAY Parents. The couple saw videos online of couples who were married in hospitals and began considering the possibility. "We asked the hospital staff (if we could have a wedding there) and they said yes. We got married within two weeks — the plan didn't change, just the location."

On February 14, 2018, Campbell and Ferreira wed in the UAB NICU — right next to then 3-month-old Kaelin's crib. Ferreira's favorite neonatologist, Dr. Waldemar Carlo, walked the bride down the hospital hallway, which was turned into a makeshift aisle.

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Sandra Milstead, the family nurse liaison at UAB, says planning the wedding was a team effort: The couple was married by a member of the hospital's pastoral care department, a catering team provided cake and refreshments and hospital employees decorated the reception area.

The UAB catering team provided a cake and refreshments for the wedding.University of Alabama at Birmingham

"I wear many hats in my job," Milstead explained. "This time I put on the hat of wedding planner and began to contact everyone who could help me."

Milstead says the hard work was worth it.

Sandra Milstead, nurse family liaison at UAB, with Ferreira on her wedding day.University of Alabama at Birmingham

"My favorite part of the day was just after Tyler and Rubia said, 'I do,'" she says. "Tyler, Rubia and Kaelin all spent some time together just soaking in the moment. It was as if you could feel the love in the room."

For Ferreira, the weeks since her daughter's birth have been "a roller coaster." Baby Kaelin's lungs are still weak, and doctors tell the new mom her 5-month-old daughter could be in the NICU for up to six more months.

Baby Kaelin was three months old when her parents married next to her NICU crib.University of Alabama at Birmingham

"For me, it was most special to be able to watch Kaelin during our ceremony," said Ferreira. "Originally I pictured getting married on the beach in Okinawa. But, under the circumstances, it was incredibly meaningful to get married in our daughter's room. I'm glad we did it this way."