It was 27 years ago, that doctors told Andy Fierlit that he should admit his wife into a nursing facility and move on with his life. Donna Fierlit was partially paralyzed from a brain aneurysm and would require far too much care.
While Andy, who was then 46, listened patiently to the experts, he decided that he loved her too much and believed in being there for her “For better or worse,” as he once promised in their wedding vows.
Instead of looking at nursing homes, the Connecticut father of four decided to book a cruise for two going to Bermuda. He packed their suitcases and has never looked back since.
In 2018, almost three decades later, the Fierlits had been to over 20 countries and seven continents, and were saving for their Scandinavian trip later that year.
While life isn’t always easy, especially maneuvering his now 73-year-old wife’s wheelchair in countries that are less than accessible to most disabled persons, traveling the world with the woman he loves has still been a dream come true.
“She never complains, she never asks, ‘Why me?’ and she’s grateful that this happened to her and not her children or grandchildren,” says Andy, 73.
He says, “Donna isn’t mobile and she has short-term memory problems, but she can tell you her father’s license plate from 1955, and she’s a lot of fun to travel with. We have a deep love for each other and we’ve always believed that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”
The two high school sweethearts met in 1958 after Andy asked Donna for a stick of gum. Today, 52-years-later they have four children and 12 grandkids. Donna was attending a Christmas party in 1991 when suddenly she developed a severe migraine. That night she tried to sleep it off, but the next day she collapsed from an aneurysm that left her paralyzed on her left side.
But, Andy refused to put her in a nursing home.
“My parents have really tested the ‘for better or worse, in sickness and in health’ part of their wedding vows,” says daughter Allison Peters, “but my mom getting sick never changed their love for one another. It just made it grow in a different direction, and I think it focused them to live each day to the fullest and not put off things they wanted to do. That’s why they’ve traveled the world.”
Today, Andy helps his wife get dressed daily, and he admits that traveling isn’t always easy. But, he and donna have learned how to laugh when things don’t go according to plan.
“At the Brussels train station, they didn’t have a wheelchair ramp, so they put Donna in a luggage cart,” he tells PEOPLE, “and in Zimbabwe, where they only had stairs to get off the plane, six guys carried her off. On every trip, we go where the locals go and we almost always encounter caring, loving people. Everyone loves Donna, and to see her light up a room always makes me happy that she’s still by my side.”
As for Donna, who has nicknamed her purple wheelchair “Proud Mary” after her favorite Tina Turner song, “I’ve had a spectacular life and I’m extremely grateful,” she says. “Every day has been an adventure with a husband like Andy.”
Thanks for reading. Please be so kind as to pass this story along to your friends and family?
- “Husband Refuses To Put Wife In Nursing Home, Spends 28 Years Taking Her Around The World” Little Things. Amy P. July 27, 2022.
- “Man Told to Put Wife in Nursing Home After Partial Paralysis Takes Her Around The World Instead” People Cathy Free May 2, 2018