Like many brides-to-be, Ruthie Ramos looked forward to walking down the aisle with her father, Walter Thompson. But a month before her wedding, Ramos and her family received devastating news. An inoperable tumor was nestled in Thompson’s brain and he likely only had a few months to live. Doctors suspected that the tumor would soon paralyze him.
“Me and her had kind of been talking about maybe I couldn’t do it. She said ‘Daddy, if I have to bring the preacher to the hospital room I will,’” Thompson tells TODAY.
But thanks to a risky surgery preformed three days before the wedding, Thompson, 53, was able to walk Ramos — his only daughter of five children — down the aisle.
“It was more of a dream come true for me because three days prior he was under the scalpel being operated on for an inoperable tumor,” she says. “I couldn’t be more thankful for that day.”
Ramos, 26, lives in Abilene, Texas with husband, Cody, 27, and her parents live in Yukon, Oklahoma, a five-hour drive away. She planned on marrying in Abilene, but after learning about her father’s health crisis, she moved the wedding to Oklahoma. Suddenly, the place settings, centerpieces, and flowers felt less important.
“My perspective changed and I was then more worried about the people who were going to be there. The things, the material things, didn’t matter as long as the people I loved where there,” she says.
A few months before the wedding, Thompson’s problems started. He noticed he couldn’t taste anything, but he had just recovered from a cold and chalked it up to that. Then he discovered he couldn’t button his shirt and he twitched oddly on his left side. Fearing a stroke, he went to the emergency room, where doctors performed a CAT scan. They found a massive brain tumor, which seemed inoperable. Without treatment he could die within months, doctors told him. Thompson got a second opinon from another neurosurgeon, who agreed that surgery remained too risky.
Finally, he visited Dr. Mike Sughrue, who knew why Thompson received so many nos. The glioma rested in the middle of the motor strip, a region of the brain responsible for motor movements. One cut too deep and Thompson would be paralyzed. With the size of the tumor, it was amazing he wasn’t already.
“I didn’t think I would be able to do it,” says the neurosurgeon at Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma. “This is an extremely high risk case and there is a reason no one else wants to touch it.”
But Sughrue wanted to give Thompson a chance. They scheduled awake brain surgery for a Wednesday. That day Thompson informed Sughrue that he planned on walking Ramos down the aisle three days later.
“You’re asking a lot from me. If you are out of the hospital in a week … that is asking a lot,” Sughrue responded.
Much to his surprise, Sughrue was able to remove the tumor without compromising Thompson’s motor skills. Still, Sughrue was realistic about potential side effects from the surgery: Thompson’s brain could swell, he could feel weak, and could need months of therapy before walking again.
But the next time the doctor saw Thompson, he was standing in the hallway asking if he could go home. Sughrue agreed adding, “The fact that you are going to make it to the wedding is crazy."
When Ramos saw her father walking toward her on her March 12 wedding day, she was overjoyed.
“It was amazing,” she says. “We walked hand and hand and we took our time and made it down the aisle.”
She also feared she wouldn’t be able to dance with her dad, but his physical therapist said he could if the song was slow.
“We got lost in our own little world,” she says. “He was there and he was getting to dance.”
Ramos wants to spend as much time as she can with her dad in the time he has left.
“I hope to never lose sight [of] making memories … because you never know what is going to happen and never know if you are going to get a call at 3 a.m. to tell you your whole life changed.”