(CBS News) - After having to cancel her wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic, a nurse from Texas decided to drop everything and fly to New York City to help on the front lines of the battle. There, she formed a bond with other out-of-town nurses, who would soon help her throw a wedding to remember.
Amanda Stuart said she couldn't take a leave of absence from her job to come to New York — she had to resign. "Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that God gave me a deep desire to serve others, especially those in need," Stuart told CBS News via email. "Whether it's a friend or a family member I feel I need to be there for, I'II drop everything to be there for someone."
Stuart, who is originally from Arkansas, met her husband, Ronnie, in 2011 when she was his dad’s ICU nurse at St. Michael’s hospital in Texarkana. Up until recently, she worked at Midland Memorial Hospital and at Signature Care ER in Midland, Texas.
Even though it meant leaving her job and family behind, she felt compelled to travel to the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak. “I knew New York needed me and I needed New York,” Stuart said.
"We were told we would be required to work 21 straight 12-hour shifts," Stuart said. "I checked into the hotel, went to orientation and was assigned to report to Coney Island Hospital the next day." Stuart said on the hour-long bus ride from the Sheraton Times Square to Coney Island, she got to know the other nurses.
However, it was still a dark time. Stuart said on the bus ride home she would hear nurses crying. "Each night I would try to decompress on the bus. Everyone has his or her own way with dealing with grief but mine wasn't working," she said. "The exhaustion of 16-hour days were catching up with me and I finally caved. I got to my hotel one night and cried my eyes out."
Stuart said she was overwhelmed with guilt, anger, fear and sadness, but she started to become friends with the nurses on her bus and they began to confide in each other. “Many of them heard I had to cancel my wedding and began joking about having Ronnie fly out here and just walk to Times Square to get married,” Stuart said. “It would be a fun and memorable experience for all. They even offered to serve as our bridesmaids and groomsmen in their scrubs.”
Instead of just joking about it, Stuart decided to do it. Her fiancé was planning on fly out to New York anyway, so they started planning what she called a mini wedding. “I felt deep inside me not only did I want to get married but I felt all the frontline heroes needed something positive to look forward to at this point in our journey,” she said.
Ally Render, the director of emergency management for Krucial Staffing, which helped deploy nearly 5,000 health care workers to New York City, joined the wedding planning, as did a group of friends, family and strangers, Stuart said.
"I had complete strangers provide a cake, a wedding dress, shoes, jewelry, music, and flowers for my wedding," she said. "The NYPD & FDNY blocked off the 'red stairs' where the wedding would be held." Stuart was told no one in history has ever been allowed to marry at the iconic stairs in Times Square — an area that's normally teeming with tourists.
Stuart's family members flew to New York for the wedding on May 10, and the night before, her "Original Coney Island Crew" of nurses threw her a bachelorette party.
"They made me a wedding dress out of PPE, lingerie out of scrubs, and my leg garter for my something borrowed. Something new and something blue [were made] out of a piece of scrubs detailed with a one of a kind Coney Island face patch from the Coney Island fire department crew," Stuart said.
The day of the wedding, the couple had their “first look” on the street, where New Yorkers were cheering for the nightly 7 p.m. clap for health care workers.
They danced in the street, took photos at the empty Grand Central Terminal and in front of the New York Public Library, and arrived at the altar in Times Square at 9:30.
"Upon arrival I saw how many of my fellow frontline heroes, the fire trucks, NYPD & others had shown up and the tears began to flow," Stuart said. Not only did she see her family in the crowd, but she saw her "her girls" from the Original Coney Island Crew lined up on the sides of the red carpet. "I remembered asking myself, 'God, what have I done to deserve this?'"
For everyone in attendance, it was a much-needed moment of joy. "I saw the nurses I'd cried with days before dancing (while practicing social distancing and in their masks we've all grown accustomed to) and laughing!" she said. "We realized how much we ALL needed that moment."
“My dream come true was something I never, ever could have imagined! A small town girl from Arkansas with the wedding of a lifetime!” she said.