Love defined their union to the very end

Posted: July 12, 2014

Marriage was always an unsettling next step for Missi Wright and Bill Carroll II.

The Morton, Delaware County, couple, together for 11 years, often talked about it but were afraid of the consequences.

A wedding meant that Wright's health insurance could be in jeopardy. Carroll didn't always have the kind of job and coverage that a wife like Wright would need.

Cystic fibrosis had sapped Wright's ability to work regularly. Breathing was sometimes a struggle. Hospitalization, a regularity.

But last week, Wright and Carroll pledged themselves to each other before a group of 20. Despite having no time to apply for a legal marriage license - Wright's condition had become grave so quickly - the two affirmed their love in the intensive care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

On July 2, Carroll and Wright vowed to love each other in sickness and in health.

Wright, or Wright-Carroll as the couple preferred after the ceremony, died the next day.

What once had been an unsettling next step had turned into Carroll's last gift to his longtime companion. Two days earlier, Carroll had proposed, partly as an attempt to encourage Wright-Carroll, 36, to get better.

"I still had hope," said Carroll, 31, during an interview at his Delaware County home.

Uncommon vitality

For years, Wright-Carroll lived with cystic fibrosis with a vitality that her sister Colleen, who also had the disease, could not muster.

Wright-Carroll was diagnosed at 7 months old; her sister, born three years later, was diagnosed in the hospital shortly after birth.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that is most common among Caucasians, affecting 1 in 3,000 live births, said Ronald Rubenstein, director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"It is a disease of how salts and water move across body surfaces," Rubenstein said. When that process is impaired, mucus and secretions can accumulate - most commonly in the lungs and pancreas - causing blockages, infection, and scarring.

Treatment is a succession of procedures to clear away secretions and control infection, Rubenstein said. "The actuarial predicted survival of a child born with cystic fibrosis is 41 years," Rubenstein said.

Colleen Wright never weighed more than 89 pounds and died at 18.

"Missi wasn't as weak," said Rachel Gillis, Wright-Carroll's older sister. "She was determined to be the longest-living person with CF."

Missi Wright was 25 and studying health-care administration at St. Joseph's University when she met Carroll at a graduation party.

Carroll, a 20-year-old with a fondness for souped-up cars and skateboarding, was reluctant to approach the vivacious "older" woman with hazel eyes and short hair.

"I was shy, but she certainly wasn't," Carroll said.

He managed to ask her out. After a week of dates, Wright-Carroll was admitted to the hospital.

"I went to visit her, and that's when I found out," said Carroll, who works as an IT network administrator.

In the early years of their relationship, Wright-Carroll would be hospitalized about once a year to clear her lungs. The couple eventually moved in together and began a life of Eagles superfandom, car meet-ups, skateboarding excursions, and dining on cheesesteaks and mint chocolate chip milkshakes at their favorite restaurant.

Wright-Carroll wouldn't let others, worried about her condition, steer her toward a sedentary life.

For her, " no meant go," Carroll said.

Wright-Carroll earned her degree and worked for a time as a health advocate and EMT. She volunteered with the local Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, once coughing and vomiting her way through a benefit walk. Her condition worsened. Hospital stays were more frequent. She was unable to work regularly and turned to blogging about her love of couponing to keep busy. She also babysat for Gillis' children.

In 2012, Wright-Carroll underwent a lung transplant.

"At first, everything was great," Carroll said.

Then she developed lymphoma, he said. It was treated, and then there was a paralyzed diaphragm. Things slowly but progressively went downhill, he said.

In early June, Wright-Carroll was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

Time was running out

Things became grave early last week. Wright-Carroll could barely breathe. Doctors performed a tracheotomy and put her on a respirator. They confirmed that Wright-Carroll's wishes were that she not be kept alive on ventilators.

On June 30, Carroll proposed.

"I said, 'I know this is not the way to do it, but will you marry me?' " Carroll said.

Her answer: " 'Most definitely,' " Carroll recounted.

At first the couple planned to wait until July Fourth, but doctors said time was running out.

Carroll's mother purchased the rings. Nurses decorated the room with streamers. Wright-Carroll wore a comb with white flowers, and rose petals were scattered over her bed.

She showed signs of her playful spirit.

"I don't do selfies, but I did one [with Wright-Carroll] on her wedding night, and she stuck her tongue out," Gillis said.

Chuck Mathues of Brookhaven, a family friend who is authorized to perform weddings, presided.

Carroll said "I do." Wright-Carroll nodded and smiled.

Then there was applause.

Wright-Carroll was taken off ventilators at 9:45 the next night after doctors confirmed that she would not improve, Carroll said. She died 40 minutes later.

"I'm at peace that she's not in pain and suffering," Carroll said. "But then, I'm not at peace because I don't have her here."

A viewing for Ms. Wright-Carroll is scheduled for Friday, July 11, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Church, 1 Fatima Dr., Secane. A Funeral Mass will follow at noon. Burial is at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.

Memorial donations may be made to the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 2004 Sproul Rd., Suite 208, Broomall, Pa. 19008.


kholmes@phillynews.com

610-313-8211 610-313-8211

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