Life hasn’t been easy for Matt Brown and Hannah Reese.
A veteran who saw duty in Iraq, Brown, 31, lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, fighting lingering paranoia and general unease. The couple’s youngest child has a disease that’s left him immobile and reliant on a ventilator.
And yet, the family decided to make the best memories they can. Sunday was sure to be among their favorites. The McKeesport couple, winners of the Warrior Wedding giveaway, said “I do” in front of 100 friends and family members at an all-expenses-paid celebration at Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
“We’re very happy,” said Reese, 23. “Every day is a blessing.”
Bonnie Walker of Bonnie Walker Events and Kim Racan of Studio-E Entertainment partnered with Revolution Events, Troy and Theodora Polamalu’s The Harry Panos Fund for Veterans, Hotel Monaco and several top Pittsburgh vendors to deliver a fairytale wedding for a Pittsburgh-area military couple.
“It is rare to come across people with such tremendous dedication, strength and faith as Hannah and Matt,” said Theodora Polamalu. “As a couple and family, they are overwhelmingly qualified for not just the wedding of their dreams, but a beautiful life together.”
Participants submitted their love stories for a Facebook contest last summer to compete for a five-hour wedding ceremony and reception at Hotel Monaco, along with all of the necessary planning and details. Winners were announced in September.
Brown, a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, served with the 2nd Marine Division in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq from 2005 to 2006. When he returned, he experienced PTSD and journeyed down a dark road that involved drinking and lack of ambition.
“I was on a path of destruction,” said Brown. “I was alone and scared.”
In 2010, Brown met Reese, a new bartender at one of his frequented spots, the now-closed Todd’s by the Bridge in Versailles. After three months of his persistence, she agreed to a first date. Two years later, they were engaged, and today, Brown sees Reese as the true hero.
“She helped me to see brighter days, urged me to seek help for the demons I was battling, and set me on the right path,” he said.
While many happy days followed, including the births of their two children, Alayna, now 4, and Colton, 10 months, new challenges would come. At 3 months old, Colton was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects the control of muscle movement. Doctors gave him less than two years to live.
The couple put wedding plans on hold to provide for Colton’s care. Reese found her love for Brown deepening during that difficult time.
“He is a wonderful father,” Reese said. “He is really patient and hard-working. He does anything for us. He’s always making sure that we have whatever we need and that we never go without.”
Colton cannot swallow and eats through a tube. Doctors say he’ll never crawl or walk. Yet the couple remains hopeful that advances in medicine will one day help their son. “When he was diagnosed, I said, ‘OK. I can either sit here and cry every day, or I can accept it and hope and wish and enjoy my time with him,’ ” Reese said.
Colton and his sister played special roles on the couple’s big day. Alayna served as flower girl and pulled her ring bearer brother down the aisle in a wagon. As another special touch, the couple wrote letters detailing their love in the days leading up to the wedding. They’ll open them on their first anniversary.
Their story has inspired all those who helped make their wedding a dream come true.
“Hannah and Matt have been through so much, willing to sacrifice everything for their family and for our country,” says Rob Mallinger, Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh general manager. “The Warrior Wedding giveaway has been rewarding for all of us who are involved with it. Especially at this time of year, it reminds us to appreciate what is truly important in life.”
Rachel Weaver is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.