A visually impaired couple scheduled to tie the knot this summer will share a very special pre-wedding gift – when the bride donates one of her kidneys to the groom.
Yvonne Evans, 57, and Gary Brooker, 51, met in August 2019 on a day organized by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) charity.
Neither of them expected to find love on the trip – but a whirlwind romance ensued, and while they haven’t moved in together, the couple got engaged in October 2020.
But before they become husband and wife, Yvonne will donate her kidney to Gary, who needs a transplant after his first fails.
Yvonne from Lisburn, Northern Ireland said: “Gary has been on the transplant list since February 2020 and had a call to say a match had been found but the operation had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s never complained, not once. I can’t wait to donate my kidney to him.
“I can’t think of a better gift and life will be so much easier for him when he has the transplant.
“What better wedding gift is there than the gift of life?”
Gary of Belfast was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12 and his eyesight deteriorated over the years.
When he was 35 years old, a fall down stairs while he was gardening resulted in hospitalization, and blood tests revealed that both of his kidneys were not working properly.
His eyesight also began to fail, and within a week Gary, the father of Kenneth, 23, was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy – a complication of diabetes that damages the fundus of the eye.
His eyesight continued to deteriorate and in 2006 he was registered as blind – in November of that year he underwent a kidney transplant.
Yvonne suffers from macular degeneration – a common disorder of intermediate vision that can make it difficult to read or recognize faces – and lost her eyesight in 2014.
Doctors tried to replace their lenses, but found that their eyes were too damaged for corrective surgery.
Yvonne said: “It was such a shock, I no longer knew what the future would look like. I think I went through a grief process before I came to terms with my new reality.”
Since then, the two have managed their respective visual impairments – Gary using a stick he calls Michael, and Yvonne with a guide dog, Amber.
After moving to Northern Ireland from London in 2012, he discovered RNIB, which was a source of great support and enabled him to try activities such as sailing, archery and tennis.
And through the charity, he met his wife, Yvonne, who had only just joined when she decided to travel to the Ulster Folk Museum in August 2019.
After she was widowed in April 2019 when her 20-year-old husband died, romance was the furthest away for her.
But when she spoke to Gary while the group waited for the train home at the end of the day, it was clear the couple had a spark.
He said, “We were all waiting for the train when I heard Yvonne chatting with a friend on the platform, so I went up and asked if I could join their conversation.
“Yvonne asked me,” Why is the ball at the end of your stick a different style than mine? “And I said, ‘Because that’s what God wanted,” which made her laugh.
“It was obvious we were joking and we’ve been chatting ever since!”
The couple swapped numbers and enjoyed their first date at Belfast’s Botanical Gardens a week later.
The couple stayed friends and blossomed into romance on a trip to the Belfast Christmas Markets in December 2019.
Now Yvonne and Gary are engaged, but they both have problems with their deteriorating eyesight.
Gary still has 20 percent vision in his left eye, while Yvonne has blurred vision and cannot see faces.
If the restrictions of Covid-19 allow, the couple dreams of a wedding with 120 guests this summer in July – but let’s say the day will be just as special, even if they can’t have a big affair.
Gary’s son Kenneth will be his best man, while Yvonne’s eight-year-old granddaughters will be flower girls.
And about six weeks before the big day, Gary will get a kidney from Yvonne.
His future bride turned out to be the perfect donor match – meaning her kidney can replace the one Gary received in 2006 in a transplant that failed in February 2020.
He said: “I am very grateful to Yvonne, she is the best thing that has ever happened to me. “Even the fact that she was happy to be tested, but now she’s donating her kidney. We just can’t wait for the future.”
The couple and Amber, the guide dog, plan to move to a new home together in a village outside Belfast.
Yvonne, mother of Lisa (33) and Jonny (30), said: “After my husband died, I thought that was it for me, life was as good as over.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would meet someone like Gary and fall in love again.
“A kidney is the best gift I can give him. It is the gift of life and we have the gift of starting a new life together. “
visit rnib.org.uk. to learn more about how the charity supports people with visual impairment.