Imagine the excitement of saying “Yes!” to a magical proposal and then saying “I do” in the wedding of your dreams — all in the same day. One woman from Smithtown, New York experienced that exact scenario when her then-boyfriend, Danny Rios, gave her the surprise of a lifetime last month.
Nicole Carfagna tells Babble that her first date with Rios was in 2014, after her family met him at a birthday party, and both of their families just knew the two had to meet. From the moment they met, Carfagna says that it felt like she’d known him forever.
“Everything was completely comfortable and just made sense,” she shares. But their courtship wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Six months after they started dating, Carfagna’s health began to decline. The special education teacher had to stop working and began spending most of her time in bed. Three years prior, Carfagna had been diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and affects many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, an estimated 1.5 million Americans — and at least five million people worldwide — have some form of lupus. And while symptoms of can vary greatly from person to person, Carfagna’s main symptoms are joint pain, fatigue, pleurisy, and pericarditis (which presents as chest pain), migraines, dizziness, and brain fog. She also suffers from Fibromyalgia and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Carfagna tells Babble she was embarrassed at first about Rios seeing her so debilitated in the early stages of their relationship, but Rios quickly eased her mind when he insisted on accompanying her to all of her appointments and supported her in every way he could.
“If anything, it brought us closer,” she now says. “We shared all the highs and lows of this cruel and unforgiving disease together.”
Carfagna now keeps a blog, NicoleCarfagna.com, where she spreads awareness about lupus and provides information, inspiration, and hope to others dealing with it. She is also an ambassador for the Lupus Foundation of America.
Still, one of Carfagna’s greatest challenges has been missing out on special moments and events due to lupus flares aggravated by stress. The 32-year-old says she’s missed countless holidays and birthdays, and sometimes feared that she’d miss her own wedding someday from the stress of all the planning.
Carfagna says that Rios, a 33-year-old police officer for the Port Authority, was always empathetic to her concerns. But she had no idea that her boyfriend was also in problem-solving mode, secretly developing a plan that could make their dreams come true in a way that removed all the stress that made Carfagna sick.
This past December, Rios surprised Carfagna with a trip to Disney World for her birthday, and the couple planned to enjoy a small birthday dinner with her family upon arriving home. But when they pulled up to the house, Carfagna saw a string of lights hanging in the backyard and heard one of her and Rios’ favorite songs playing — “Fix You” by Coldplay. Rios then led her to a tent where all of their closest family and friends were waiting. In the middle of the tent, he got down on one knee and popped the question.
“It was the most amazing, shocking and happy moment of my life,” Carfagna tells Babble.
But the surprises didn’t end there. About 20 minutes after getting engaged, Rios asked for a private moment inside the house with his new fiancée.
“I figured he wanted a second alone to process what just happened,” she says.
But instead, Rios asked if she would like to get married that very night. He said if so, all of the preparations were already in place: his dad had become ordained, he had a dress for her and a suit for himself, and all of their loved ones were there. He also assured her that there was no pressure at all to agree, since everyone thought they were just there for an engagement party (he had only let a few family members in on the secret potential wedding so that they could help him prepare).
“It was a shock!” Carfagna says. But it was also the easiest decision she’s ever had to make. “I couldn’t stop saying yes! … I was so ready to marry this man and not worry about planning a whole extravagant wedding.”
The couple’s family members and friends got right to work helping them get ready.
“The dress fit perfectly,” says Carfagna. “Everything went perfectly.”
Rios asked his best friend to be his best man, and Carfagna — keeping with the spirit of doing things her own unique way — chose her brother to be her “man of honor.”
An hour-and-a-half after Carfagna accepted Rios’ proposal, the two were pronounced husband and wife.
She tells Babble that the wedding was everything she wanted and much more.
“It was so laid back and we were so intimately surrounded by people we loved,” she shares. “The love and support in the tent was palpable. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to start my life with Danny and I wouldn’t change a thing … I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling.”
Carfagna recognizes that most women can’t imagine missing out on planning their own wedding, but for her, this surprise and pre-planned wedding couldn’t have been more perfect. Her struggle with lupus has taught her the importance of doing what makes you happy, no matter what others may think.
“I always dreamt of finding someone who would be by my side through this crazy rollercoaster called life, but I never imagined I’d find the man of my dreams,” she says. “We truly knew the meaning of ‘in good times and bad-in sickness and in health’ shortly after we started dating. I just want everyone to know there’s someone out there for them and despite anything they have going on health wise … they deserve happiness.”