Caleigh Haber has been dreaming of her wedding day for as long as she can remember, but she never realized it would come like this.
The 27-year-old, who has cystic fibrosis and is currently in need of her second double lung transplant, is about to marry the love of her life, Bryan Takayama. It’s an exciting celebration with a somber undertone.
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Haber has already undergone her first double lung transplant, a procedure she had once hoped would give her new life. Although she said she was "extremely grateful" to her donor, the match wasn't as perfect as they'd hoped, and Haber's body has fully rejected her new lungs.
Now, she’s in kidney failure, has lost a significant amount of weight and is struggling to simply breathe.
“If someone is running a marathon or working out, that’s pretty much what my body is doing all the time,” she said.
Haber, of California, has been in and out of hospitals for much of her life, but her appointment last week came as a bit of a shock.
“I went into [the] clinic with an optimistic mindset that a new path would be discovered leading to a positive outcome. However I was completely taken off guard when I heard the words I needed to be admitted for testing and monitoring,” she wrote on Facebook. “For a ‘Hail Mary’ is what they called this admission.”
After two days of testing, doctors said there was nothing more they could do.
Haber needs a double lung transplant to live, but experts say she likely wouldn’t survive the procedure, and because of that, they can’t approve her as part of their transplant program.
“That’s pretty much the worst thing you can hear as a transplant patient,” she told NBC 5.
Of the many hospitals she applied for a transplant at, Haber said all but three have declined her.
“As a result of this prognosis, I’m now left with the ‘fight or flight’ choice of what the next steps for my life should be - continue to work at changing centers’ minds to transplant me or live the rest of my days on my favorite Hawaiian island on palliative care,” she wrote. “After a crazy, stressful, and busy 48 hours of high emotions and big decisions, Bryan and I have arrived home to sit down and brainstorm our options for our future. When you have a love as strong as we do one person’s downfall is also the others. We ride the wave of life together no matter how large or scary. So tonight we’ve devised a plan to put all our last eggs into living.”
The couple, who have been dating for a year, have decided to get married and live out Haber’s dream while they still can.
“We’ve kind of realized that if we wait it might not happen,” she said.
So, with the help of her family and friends, Haber started planning her wedding – in just seven days.
“I started reaching out to people putting together a list of things they’d need,” said friend and bridesmaid Tiffany Au, who called the wedding a “real life ‘Walk to Remember,’” referencing the 2002 film starring Mandy Moore.
The Chicago-area native currently living in California rushed to be by Haber’s side throughout the wedding process – but neither of them expected what would come of their plans.
“Basically every single thing for the wedding, we’ve got it donated, which is just absolutely shocking that so many people want to help and so many people want to bring awareness,” Haber said.
From a wedding planner to music to a photographer and more, people have flocked to help make Haber’s longtime dream a reality.
“We’re really, really excited,” she said.
Even a GoFundMe page started to help the couple pay for their honeymoon surpassed its goal within just hours of being posted.
By Friday afternoon, the page, which had a goal of $10,000, had already raised $14,205. Any extra funds raised will go to helping pay for Haber’s medical bills and the medical needs of others suffering from cystic fibrosis, Au said.
While Haber continues to take things day by day, and focus on her big day, in the back of her mind, she’s constantly hoping at least one hospital will consider her for a transplant.
“For [Bryan’s] sake, my family’s sake and my personal goals of my future I really want to try to get a hospital to accept me,” she said. “In the meantime, we don’t want to waste any days just sitting around. If they don’t [accept me] we are making the choice to kind of pack up all our stuff and most likely we’ll move to Hawaii and just stay there. Hawaii is just like my happy place.”
Though the couple hasn’t been together for long, Haber calls their love “aggressive,” noting that Takayama, 25, has already learned as much as he can about her disease and become her caretaker - washing her hair, helping her dress and even working with her on treatments.
“It’s a different relationship than most 27-year-olds have,” Haber said.
“I feel like every sentence they exchange, they begin and end with ‘I love you,’” Au said.
Haber has been vocal about her struggle with cystic fibrosis, sharing even her most vulnerable moments on social media to raise awareness for the genetic lung disease that is believed to affect more than 70,000 people worldwide.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the current median predicted survival age is close to 40.
Haber, who said she is used to facing “life or death decisions every day,” doesn’t know if she’ll make it to 28, but she said her latest diagnosis isn't keeping her from trying – it’s simply making her live even more.
“I love [Bryan] and I love our life so much there’s no possible way I can make the decision to stop,” she said.
Their wedding will take place minutes away from Haber's healthcare team in northern California - one year exactly from the day the couple first met.