JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — “In sickness and in health” is a vow one First Coast couple knows all too well as they’ve spent their whole relationship in a medical battle.
Many people celebrated Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, but few celebrate National Organ Donor Day. Jason Long and Diana Folino celebrate both.
“I was at the beach and collapsed in the water—couldn’t breathe,” Folino recounted on one of her first dates with Long.
“I saw the wave knocking her over,” Long remembered. “I brought her, dragged her to the beach. I started seeing the blue in her fingertips starting to make its way to the main part of her body.”
An evening in the emergency room isn’t your typical first date
“That was the first time I had to call her parents,” Long laughed. “I was like, ‘I’m in the ambulance with your daughter.’ And they’re like ‘Who is this?’”
That was the start of Folino and Long’s difficult love story.
“We just started meeting and I didn’t want to lose her,” Long said.
It was that night Mayo Clinic’s transplant team told Folino she had cardiomyopathy and would need a heart transplant.
“Patients who are as sick as Diana was with her cardiomyopathy, in general, have about a 50 percent survival rate for one year,” said Dr. Rohan Goswami, Folino’s transplant cardiologist.
“From one perspective, you want to have a relationship with someone,” Folino said. “But from another perspective, you’re afraid because you don’t know if they will accept everything.”
But Long knew Folino was the one, and the two built a strong relationship as Folino's heart weakened.
“People sometimes run when things get tough but he stuck with it and he wasn’t going to let go,” Folino said.
“When you know they don’t have that much time to live, you just keep on trucking because you don’t want to lose that love,” Long said. “Even if it is only for a short time.”
Folino’s condition got so severe, she could no longer live her normal life and was told she needed to be confined to a hospital room, surrounded by doctors at all times.
“When they started telling us she would have to be hospitalized, I asked her parents if I could marry her,” Long said. “Game plan for her was to get her something to look forward to.”
Just before she was admitted, Long surprised Folino with a special date on Hoptinger’s rooftop bar. Then dropped to one knee and proposed.
“We were up on the rooftop bar and they brought us chocolate and champagne and we enjoyed ourselves,” Long said.
The couple enjoyed what could have been their last night out in the world together before Folino was admitted to the hospital waiting for a heart—and that good news finally came months later.
“You really see a future ahead that you didn’t see before,” Folino said. “There are days you wonder, are you really going to make it to the next day?”
A three-year-long journey, filled with tears, laughter, hope and sadness all led to their wedding day, where their vow “in sickness and in health” held a strong meaning.
“At our wedding, he actually gave a speech about being an organ donor,” Folino said. “’ Go out and be an organ donor and this is why,’ pointing to me. And without it, I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t be here without him.”