Bonita and Dex Pelley said "I do" all over again after Dex underwent the lifesaving operation
A Canadian couple turned a health crisis into a moving testament to their love and commitment.
Bonita and Dex Pelley of St. John's in Newfoundland were inspired to renew their wedding vows last year after Dex successfully underwent a lifesaving heart transplant.
"He proposed to me before the transplant and he said, 'If I get through this, marry me again,'" Bonita told CBC News at their joy-filled vow renewal ceremony, held at a downtown pub in December. "And here we are, and this is 24 years later and we are so grateful."
Dex was diagnosed with a genetic disease called ARVC, or arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. Both his mother and sister died from the condition, and his brother and another sister also have been diagnosed.
According to the American Heart Association, ARVC is a rare type of cardiomyopathy that occurs when "the muscle tissue in the right ventricle dies and is replaced by scar tissue," resulting in disruptions in the heart's electrical signals and arrhythmias.
"I was fortunate that they found it 10 years before I had any symptoms and they put a defibrillator in me," Dex told CBC News. "The first time I had the arrest, I didn't even know I had it. Basically, it's the gene, tells the heart to stop."
As his health continued to worsen, Dex needed a heart transplant to save his life, and Bonita said she fought "tooth and nail" to secure him a spot on the transplant list with the Ottawa Heart Institute. After waiting more than six months for a match for Dex, doctors told the couple they may need to prepare for the worst.
"All the doctors came in and they said, 'You don't have months to wait anymore, you only have weeks,'" Bonita recalled to CBC News, adding, "It depleted us. It devastated us."
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Finally, they received the call they'd been waiting for, telling them a match had been found. Dex's transplant surgery was successful and now, he feels profound gratitude for the unknown man who gave him a new lease on life.
"I'm not sure who it is yet," he told CBC News of his donor. "Hopefully one of these days I'll find out."
"He gave me life in so many different ways," Dex continued, prompting Bonita to add, "And not only that they gave him life, but they gave my husband back."
When their family and friends gathered at the pub before Christmas to witness the Pelleys exchange vows all over again, their friend Derek Diamond performed a poignant song that he wrote for the couple.
"Even with a change of heart, there was no change of heart," Diamond sang, per CBC News.
Now that Dex's health challenges are behind him, the second-time newlyweds are looking forward to lots of new adventures together.
"He's going to try cross-country skiing!" Benita told the outlet. "Oh, he has a bucket list now."
"New heart, new start — but he still got the same old wife," she added with a laugh.
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