An ICU Wedding on Short Notice

It was not the wedding they would have planned but “It worked out perfect,” said the bride, Amy Harvey Shilling, of Erie.

Her now husband, Matt Shilling sought medical care at UPMC Hamot after antibiotics for bronchitis did not resolve his health problem. An ultrasound of his heart showed severe heart failure and an immediate need for a ventricular assist device. He was then transferred to UPMC Presbyterian where a multidisciplinary team of cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeons and critical care intensivists talked with Matt about a possible heart transplant.

“When Matt came to Presby, he was extremely sick after being diagnosed with heart failure,” said Raj Padmanabhan, MD, assistant professor of Critical Care Medicine and Mr. Shilling’s physician in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at UPMC Presbyterian.

While Dr. Padmanabhan and the team of physicians ran diagnostic tests to determine the cause of Mr. Shilling’s cardiomyopathy, he and his long-time fiancée, Amy Harvey, started talking about their future.

Ms. Harvey said she would marry Matt, “Right here. Right now.”

This spur-of-the-moment wedding idea quickly gained momentum. In a less than 48 hours, UPMC social workers facilitated an emergency marriage license; the Cardiovascular ICU nurse team arranged catering and the use of the unit’s family lounge; the director of communications took on bridal bouquet design and decorating duties; and, after a late-night call, the couple’s pastor traveled from Erie to perform the marriage at 11 am on Friday, November 8, 2019.

Three hours after his bride Amy walked down the aisle in the family lounge, Matt had an intervention aimed at restoring normal heart rhythm.

Dr. Padmanabhan explained Matt’s situation, “We realized that his heart muscle, while not scared, not full of fibrous tissue, and not full of inflammation was just really weak from his abnormal heart rhythm.”

The phenomenon is called tachycardia-induced cardiomyopathy, and it often goes undetected and not recognized as a serious health issue by those afflicted. That procedure was successful. Matt has since been released from the Cardiothoracic ICU and is now under the care of UPMC cardiologists.

Dr. Padmanabhan put the wedding venue in perspective when he said, “I’ve had many, many meetings in the ICU family lounge. It’s where we hold family meetings and usually it’s where we discuss bad news.” He added, “But never have we celebrated life as much as we’ve done today [at this wedding]. It just goes to show if there’s something that you really want to achieve, then there shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t find the resources to make that a reality.”