A groom suffering heart failure who was given just weeks to live got the chance to marry his fiancée in their dream beach wedding last month thanks to some very quick work by a wedding planner and donations by local businesses.
Hunter Knisley, 27, suffers from Becker Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic degenerative disease that makes the body’s muscles weaker and smaller.
He has battled the effects since he was a child, but early last month, an echocardiogram revealed that he was in end-stage heart failure, and doctors weren’t optimistic about how much time he had left, according to People.
Hunter’s final wish was to marry his fiancée, Emily Draper Knisley, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — and staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital wanted to make it happen.
They reached out to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, who tapped wedding planner Amanda McDowell to make their wedding dreams a reality.
Hunter Knisley, 27, suffers from Becker Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic degenerative disease that makes the body’s muscles weaker and smaller
Last month, an echocardiogram revealed that he was in end-stage heart failure and doctors predicted he had just weeks left to live
Hunter’s final wish was to marry Emily Draper Knisley in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Hunter and Emily go way back — to their births, in fact — though they didn’t start dating until they were adults.
The pair were born four hours apart at the same Ohio hospital, with Social Security numbers that are one digit apart
They also both attended Sheridan High School in Thornville, Ohio, where Emily was a grade behind Hunter.
She recalls him being ‘adorable,’ while he always thought she was ‘so pretty’ — but he was too shy to make a move.
That didn’t happen until January 2019, when Emily popped up on Hunter’s Facebook timeline and he sent her a message.
‘Right off the bat, we felt like we were best friends,’ he told People.
He’d known Emily Draper Knisley since they were kids, but they only became romantically involved in 2019
Nationwide Children’s Hospital reached out to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, who tapped wedding planner Amanda McDowell to make their wedding dreams a reality
Hunter and Emily have a one-year-old son, and Hunter is stepdad to Emily’s two children from a previous marriage
The couple went on their first date in March 2019, and things seemed to get serious pretty quickly.
‘We click,’ Hunter said. ‘And she’s gorgeous. I can’t stress that enough. She’s just a really good person and just wonderful to be around.’
By their third date, Hunter was laying his cards on the table: He told her about the potential complications of his illness, saying heart failure is common — and he might have a short life in front of him.
‘I told her there are a lot of uncertainties about where my health can go, and how soon that can happen, when that can happen,’ Hunter recalled. ‘I was very up front with her about it.’
Emily wasn’t phased.
‘If I was going to have someone break my heart, I wanted it to be him,’ she said.
Hunter was diagnosed at age eight and shared the risks of his condition when he and Emily started dating
‘If I was going to have someone break my heart, I wanted it to be him,’ she said
Before long, in November 2019, they moved in together, with Emily bringing along her daughters, six-year-old Delanie and four-year-old Delilah.
Just over a year later, in December 2020, Hunter popped the question.
Because Emily had yet to finalize her divorce from Delanie and Delilah’s dad, the couple couldn’t get married right away — so in the meantime, they had wedding bands tattooed on their fingers.
In March of 2021, they welcomed a son, Maverick.
But Hunter continued to battled health problems, and had to be hospitalized three times this year.
About a month ago, the results of an echocardiogram came back with shocking news: Doctors said he was in end-stage heart failure and told him he had just weeks left to life.
Hospitalized again, Hunter shared his last wish: to marry Emily in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
In March of 2021, they welcomed a son, Maverick
After he was given a few weeks to live, they rushed to get married in a courthouse wedding before their beach wedding
First, the pair got legally married in a courthouse ceremony on April 14.
But with some help from the hospital, Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, and their wedding planner, they were able to have their beach ceremony on April 21 — which Hunter said was ‘everything I ever wanted’
‘We both love the beach,’ Emily told WPDE. ‘We came when we were kids and we wanted to bring our kids to the beach and play. We weren’t sure we were going to get to but thanks to a bunch of people we were able to not only bring our kids but to also get married at the beach.’
Since the wedding, Hunter’s condition has slightly improved, and he may have a bit more time than doctors originally thought.
He’s spending that time with his family, playing with kids and listening to his wife sing.
‘We just wanted to spend as much time as possible together,’ he said.
He’s spending his remaining time with his family, and recently got to see his one-year-old son play football
Emily got the one-year-old a jersey and ran with him down a football field, with friends and family present
Hunter also got to do something else he dreamed of but didn’t expect to experience: He watched his son play football.
Emily got the one-year-old a jersey and ran with him down a football field, with friends and family present.
‘When I met Hunter, I knew that this was the outcome. I just never knew when,’ the mother-of-three told People.
‘I’m sad that it’s so much sooner than we expected, but I am so happy and thankful that he did randomly message me, and that we’ve had the time together that we’ve had, and we had a beautiful son. My girls just love him. He is dad.
‘Not everybody gets to have the time that we do,’ she added. ‘And although it is heartbreaking, I can’t help but be thankful that we do.
‘I have the time to make these memories and this time with the kids and we just get to spend as much time together as we can and cherish everything.’