Wedding Dreams Do Come True

Nationwide helped bring ‘happily ever after’ to this couple after the nightmare of a near-fatal car accident.

On a crisp fall evening, October 24, 2008, then-23-year-old Holli Munro, dressed in a chic beaded designer wedding gown, paused a moment before she walked down the aisle of St. John’s Episcopal Church on the outskirts of Flint, Michigan.

It was a step the stunning bride had dreamed of taking ever since she was a little girl—long before she fell in love four years before with Steve Holdwick, 28, a self-employed construction worker and site developer.

The couple met on the evening of Dryden High School’s annual “snowcoming” basketball game, when graduates like Holli and Steve return to their tiny hometown (population 815) to reconnect with classmates. After just two weeks, they were discussing marriage. But their wedding day fantasies never included the camera crews that were poised throughout the sanctuary to film the event for the pilot of reality TV show Wedding Day. Sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, several episodes of the program aired on TNT last summer.

As insurers like Nationwide know, real life can be more heart-wrenching than even the best-written novel or screenplay. The unexpected happens, both before and after couples say “I do.” For young newlyweds like Holli and Steve, even the best-laid plans can go awry, making something as simple as Holli’s first step down the aisle nothing short of a miracle.

In Sickness and in Health Only 15 months earlier, Holli lay in a deep coma, a hemorrhage pressing on her brain and her body crumpled after a near-fatal accident just four days before the couple’s original wedding day, 7-7-07. The seventh day of the seventh month of the year 2007 was a symbol of good luck for Holli and Steve, both avid poker players, but it was preceded by tragic misfortune. At 1:23 p.m. on July 3, after Holli’s boss let her leave work early to prepare for the wedding, another car slammed into Holli’s driver’s side door. The 45-mile-per-hour impact flipped her car, leaving Holli with a shattered pelvis, fractured ribs and internal bleeding in her brain and abdomen.

On a day meant for joyful wedding preparations, Steve, along with Holli’s parents, Dennis and June, tensely waited to learn of Holli’s chances. They were devastated to hear her odds of surviving the traumatic brain injury and internal bleeding were a mere 50-50. Even if she did survive, the possibility loomed that she might be trapped in a coma forever. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw her right after the accident,” Steve says grimly. “She had no signs of life. She was cold to the touch, and dirt, sticks and grass were tangled in her hair.”

Steve kissed Holli and told her he loved her, but she was unresponsive. Still, he kissed her every day during his bedside vigil until—to his amazement—she kissed him back several days later, even though she still appeared to be unconscious. “Shortly after that, I snapped out of my coma,” Holli says.

Her awakening six days after the accident was an answer to the prayers of an entire community. Holli’s parents and Steve received endless calls, well wishes and generous support that Dennis calls “phenomenal.” Dennis’s co-workers donated their vacation time to allow him to remain at his daughter’s bedside without taking a pay cut. “People were always bringing us food,” recalls Steve, who also felt touched by the more than 550 loving entries on Holli’s CarePage, a personalized website service provided for patients at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. One post from the honeymoon cruise line that didn’t charge for the abrupt cancellation simply said: “When you are ready.”

Being ready for her wedding day—and triumphantly walking down that aisle—became the driving force in Holli’s life as she faced the grueling rehabilitation required to be able to walk again, a feat she accomplished in early February 2008. That moment was soon overshadowed by yet another tragedy, when Steve’s brother, Paul, died suddenly on February 9. “Steve and I have said we can make it through anything,” Holli says, “because in seven months we had to deal with the accident and Paul’s death.”

Just Get Them to the Set on Time With such a dramatic backdrop to their wedding, it’s no wonder Holli and Steve were selected for the season premiere of Wedding Day—a fact they didn’t know until just three days before the big event. They had responded to a tiny ad in a Detroit newspaper asking for applicants for the reality show, during which event planners to the stars unexpectedly burst into the lives of deserving couples and super-size their nuptial plans to create the ultimate dream wedding, with the help of family and friends.

As Holli took that first step down the aisle, she looked like a Hollywood starlet in a sleek mermaid-style wedding gown and crystal-studded sandals, with her long dark locks recently styled at a fancy Manhattan hair salon. After Holli and Steve said their vows beneath an arbor strewn with flowers, the couple and more than 200 guests celebrated in grand style at a reception with a champagne toast, filet mignon and lobster tails. The evening’s entertainment included a mini-concert by pop superstars Boyz II Men, who sang the romantic ballad “I’ll Make Love to You” as Holli and Steve danced in an adoring embrace.

Today, as the couple considers the events leading to that magical moment, they realize they’ve learned poignant lessons about life—and love. “I’ve learned to appreciate every day we have together because we truly don’t know when it will be the last,” Holli says, looking at Steve affectionately. “And I know how important it is to stand by the one you love,” Steve says. “Because if something happened, you’d want your loved one to stand by you.”

Lori K. Baker is a Phoenix-based writer specializing in true-life dramas and health. Her work has appeared in some of the nation’s largest magazines, including Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Glamour and Parenting.

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