Earlier this year, Kerry, 37, and his boyfriend Hayward, 27, went on a vacation to San Francisco to visit family. Little did they know, the trip would turn their entire world upside down. Hayward contracted bacterial meningitis during their stay and was hospitalized for three weeks. He recovered, but lost his hearing permanently.
Hayward initially noticed something was wrong after returning home from the trip when he developed a headache and sensitivity to light that even migraine medication couldn’t help. When his symptoms worsened, the couple rushed to the hospital.
Hayward’s condition declined rapidly. He temporarily lost his vision and became paralyzed from the hips down.
“In a relationship, communication is key, you know? We were left without communication for about six months,” Kerry said.
Hayward was recently approved to receive a cochlear implant, a device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear, which would give the couple their communication back. Following the surgery, there is a period of recovery time before the device is actually turned on — which gave Kerry time to plan the perfect proposal.
“We had talked a little bit about getting married — well, signed about it, at least,” Kerry explained. “I wanted the first thing that I said to him to be asking for his hand.”
Kerry called the audiologist for approval beforehand and gathered some close friends and family for the big moment.
“I was in shock,” Hayward said. “I’m hearing all these click sounds, I’m hearing my brother speak, and I can hear Kerry, and the first thing that comes out of his mouth — it’s this big spiel about what we’ve been through and he’s down on one knee.”
The video has made the rounds on the internet, resulting in the couple even being recognized at the local grocery store and getting congratulations from strangers.
Although the past year was difficult at times, Hayward and Kerry are confident everything has made their relationship stronger. “Before, I knew he loved me, but now? It’s surreal. He’s there,” Hayward said. He also has a new appreciation for the little things in life. “I’ll stop and smell the roses, so to speak.”
While nothing is set in stone yet, the couple hopes to plan their big day around Mardi Gras in 2019, since their first date was around the same time.
Sarah Karlan is a deputy editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.