Kerry, 37, and his boyfriend Hayward, 27, decided to go on a vacation this year to San Francisco to visit family but what they did not realize was how their trip would take a dramatic turn.
Hayward was hospitalized for three weeks after he contracted bacterial meningitis – he thankfully recovered but lost his hearing permanently.
Bacterial meningococcal meningitis is spread by extended contact with a carrier and can be fatal, even if caught quickly. It is spread via saliva transfer, such as sharing food, water, or kissing which can result in inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
Despite there being a vaccine, multiple college campuses have reported outbreaks in the past few years of meningitis B. And according to the CDC, fewer than 300 cases are reported per year as the outbreaks are still very rare in the US.
It wasn’t until the couple returned home from the trip that Hayward noticed that something was wrong after he began to have a headache and was sensitive to light that even migraine medication could not help.
When Hayward symptoms didn’t get any better, they quickly made their way to the hospital.
Kerry first assumed since the couple was drinking that night that the symptoms were due to excessive drinking or dehydration. Hayward shares that he remembered seeing something about a meningitis outbreak on the news right before their trip but did not know what the disease was exactly.
“We didn’t know anything about it, so we ignored it.”
Hayward then began to get worse and fast, temporarily losing his vision and becoming paralyzed from the hips down.
Hayward spent the next three weeks in the hospital working to recover both his sight and mobility.
“In a relationship, communication is key, you know? We were left without communication for about six months,” Kerry said.
The couple had been dating for three years and shared how the six months were difficult to the couple. Hayward said his condition made him feel like “being in jail” in his own head.
“I could see everything that was going on — I could communicate, but the world couldn’t communicate back with me.”
The two learned American Sign Language (ASL) quickly so they could communicate.
“He would place the ‘I love you’ sign on my leg or on my back, and that’s when I knew I could go to sleep,” Hayward shared.
Hayward as of late was approved to receive a cochlear implant. The device replaces the function of the damaged ear which would give Hayward his hearing back.
After the surgery, there is a chunk of recovery time before the device can be turned on. This left Kerry plenty of time to plan his proposal.
“We had talked a little bit about getting married — well, signed about it, at least,” Kerry shared. “I wanted the first thing that I said to him to be asking for his hand.”
Kerry made sure it was okay with the audiologist before gathering their friends and family for the planned surprise.
“I was in shock,” Hayward said. “I’m hearing all these click sounds, I’m hearing my brother speak, and I can hear Kerry, and the first thing that comes out of his mouth — it’s this big spiel about what we’ve been through and he’s down on one knee.”
Despite the past year being a challenge to say the least, both Hayward and Kerry are sure that it has made their relationship better.
“Before, I knew he loved me, but now? It’s surreal. He’s there,” Hayward said.
The two continue to learn ASL despite Hayward having the implant to make sure they never have to go without communicating ever again.
“The deaf community rallied behind us and helped us a lot to get through that six-month period,” Kerry said.
And though the date has yet to be set, the couple have their sites set on Mardi Gras in 2019 as their first date was around that same time.
Watch the touching video, below:
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