CLEVELAND — For Jennifer Manges, the hospital waiting room was a lonely place. It was also the place where she met her guardian angel.
In August 2021, Jennifer and her then-fiancé Erik were both diagnosed with COVID-19. The couple had chosen not to get vaccinated.
Jennifer recovered fairly quickly but Erik did not. He was flown by critical care to the Cleveland Clinic and he was given a 5% chance of living.
“I don’t really recall much of anything,” Erik told 3News’ Laura Caso.
However, Jennifer says she remembers it all. She said waiting at the Cleveland Clinic and fearing the unknown was the worst moment of her life. Erik was put on a ventilator and Jennifer waited for answers - until the hospital chaplain, Brent Raitz, walked in.
“I didn’t want her to be alone because it’s a terrible feeling to be a family member and the only one in the hospital,” said Brent. “A lot of the time it is about not saying anything and not trying to fix things.”
Chaplain Brent listened as Jennifer told stories about her then-fiancé but also about the grim reality of planning her Alaskan honeymoon to planning a funeral. Together, the two waited many hours together and when Jennifer was finally allowed to go see Erik on his ventilator, the chaplain followed.
“It was nice to have him walk with me and hold my hand,” said Jennifer. “I call him my guardian angel. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Chaplain Brent continued supporting Jennifer and Erik through a 45-day journey in the hospital and therapy. Erik had to learn how to walk and eat once again. He says he forgot how to swallow after days of sedation.
“Just breathing again was difficult because a machine had been breathing for me for the last 20 somewhat days,” said Erik.
So when Erik started getting better, Jennifer and Erik decided to move up their wedding date to Nov. 6, and Erik’s job was to find an officiant. Then the chaplain walked into Erik’s room and as they were talking, Erik had a sudden thought.
“As we were talking I was thinking to myself, ‘Do you marry people?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I do,’” Erik recalled. “So I said, ‘How about Nov. 6? Are you interested in officiating our wedding?’ and he was like, ‘It works for me and I’d be honored to do it,’ and it was kind of like a magic moment.”
“It was such a joyful moment for me because I have been doing this pandemic for two years now and to see something we could celebrate,” said Brent.
Jennifer’s guardian angel – guiding her through her worst moments, by her side at her absolute best.
“Brent just looked so happy…it was so perfect to have him…the biggest smile,” said Jennifer. “To have him there was just wonderful.”
MORE FACES OF COVID STORIES:
RELATED: Faces of COVID: Cleveland music legend David Smeltz dies of disease after months-long battle
RELATED: Faces of COVID: One Year Later
RELATED: Faces of COVID: 12 hours after losing mom to the coronavirus, Independence woman battles virus in the same ICU
Editor's note: The video in the player above is from a previously published, unrelated story.