All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2003

Susan Norman and Willy Haney

October 14, 2003
Susan Passi-Klaus
Nashville City Paper

Married Saturday, Sept. 27, 2003 at 2 p.m.
Wedding and reception was held at Madison Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center.

It all started with a wave when Willy Haney, 64, began to flirt from behind his window at the Madison Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. The object of his affection, Susan Norman, 58, waved back across the courtyard from her own room. Before long, the two widows met wheelchair-to-wheelchair and began a sweet courtship that has kept the entire nursing home staff riveted on their romance for several months.

Susan, a former teacher in Nashville's Catholic school system, has multiple sclerosis that has advanced very quickly and left her a paraplegic. Her body may not be working as well as it used to, but her spirit still fills a room with joy. The center has arranged for this mother of four to begin tutoring local students and soon she'll begin her tri-weekly trek to Neely's Bend Elementary School.

Willy was in a traumatic car accident that took the life of his wife and left him with renal disease. A relative newcomer to the healthcare facility, he goes to dialysis three times a week and never wheels through the halls without a smile, telling a joke or calling everyone in his stable of girlfriends "darling."

There's a rumor that several hearts broke and jealousy flared when the news got out that bachelor jokester had popped the question to his courtyard sweetheart.

After a wheelchair wedding that had many guests in happy tears, the couple will make their home in Room 31 at the Madison Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center.

Sue Murphy, the center's assistant director of nursing, kindly volunteered to help Susan and Willy tell their story to The City Paper.

What was their courtship like?
They'd mostly meet in the courtyard where Susan maintains the birdfeeders. They'd also have lunch together and do the planned facility activities together. Being in the same building allowed them a lot of together time.

How did the groom propose?
Willy wanted to room together, but Susan thought it would be inappropriate, so he said, "Let's get married then!"

What is particularly romantic about the couple?
Susan has an electric wheelchair that Willy holds on to in his wheelchair. She pulls him along the hallways. Willy says, "I hold her hand," and he calls her "Sweetpea."

What made Susan fall in love with Willy?
That he's funny even after all he has been through. She says he has a "great attitude."

And what about Susan captured Willy's romantic attention?
"Her beautiful smile and a good attitude from 'foot to toe,'" chuckled Willy.

What tradition do you refuse to follow on your wedding day?
Throw the garter

What has the couple disagreed about in planning the wedding?
That he didn't want to make any decisions

What did the bride wear?
A lavender dress with a long white tulle veil that trailed behind her wheelchair. The groom wore a nice suit.

Who participated in the wedding?
Director of Admissions, Tony Sirten, is also a chaplain and married Susan and Willy. Susan's daughter was maid of honor and one of her sons was best man. Two granddaughters were flower girls and a grandson was ring bearer. Linda Shipley, music director at Inglewood Baptist Church provided the music for vocalists Ada Perez, David Hampton and Lisa VanMater. Live music at the reception was provided by Bill Poe and John VanMater. Sweet 'n Sassy Bakery donated the wedding cake and the center's director of food service, Lester Wettlin, provided food. Over 100 guests attended the wedding and reception.

Copyright © 2003, Nashville City Paper