How I met my wife: A tale of first dates, cystic fibrosis, and Disney

Dating with chronic illness brings unique challenges and also rewards

William Ryan avatar

by William Ryan |

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I was never a fan of being single.

Despite living life like it was a song that didn’t make the album “Is This It” by The Strokes, I didn’t like the whole process of meeting someone, going on a date, and never talking to them again.

One of the main reasons I never heard from people after first dates was, who wants to deal with a person with a terminal illness like cystic fibrosis (CF)? I don’t say that to be mean, but it’s a lot of pressure and baggage to bring to someone. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to deal with it.

There’s also a sentiment within the CF community that we shouldn’t just accept a partner who keeps us around in spite of a sense of resentment by the partner toward CF. We shouldn’t accept anything other than true love. Plus, relationships should be a two-way street.

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Meeting the one

Two years ago, on Feb. 27, 2021, I married my wife, Gina. Four years before that, on Feb. 28, 2017, we went on our first date.

I always brought up having cystic fibrosis on first dates, because it’s a barometer to see where the date might go. It was important for me to be upfront about having the illness. I was taking pills, so I’d have to explain it anyway.

Gina and I were in the middle of eating poutine when I dropped the fact that I have cystic fibrosis into the conversation. After asking what CF is, she said, “That’s fine. It’s not the end of the world.”

I was confused, because this news is generally met with an awkward silence or some version of, “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you’ll be OK.” Those responses never bothered me, because I knew they weren’t coming from a malicious place. But I knew I wouldn’t hear from that person again.

I asked Gina what she meant by her comment, and she told me her own family history, and how she was used to visiting and staying in hospitals with family members. She even suggested some good meals that hospitals offered! At that moment, I knew I wanted to date her. Whether she wanted to date me depended on how the rest of the night went. But I knew there was something there.

Two weeks later, we were dating.

About two years after that, I got sepsis. The next morning, she came to visit me in the hospital. Neither of us had been to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City before, so I appreciated the help with figuring out what I should get for lunch and dinner. After she stayed with me for a week in the hospital, and then in the weeks after that, when I was hooked up to a biliary drain bag and had to have a double surgery, I knew I wanted to marry her.

Before my sepsis attack, all she had talked about was wanting to go to Disney World and getting dinner at Be Our Guest, a restaurant based on the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” (Hey, wait a minute!)

We were supposed to go in the months between the sepsis attack and the surgery, but it was impossible for me to fly, so we pushed the trip back. We did eventually get to go.

At the restaurant, I sweated through a dinner — but not because of CF, the Florida heat, or my Irish genes. Then I got down on one knee and proposed.

She said yes!

Fast forward to now, two years after a wedding that I’m not sure either of us remember much, and four years after nearly dying, and we’ll be celebrating our second wedding anniversary in an undisclosed beautiful location. Cystic fibrosis isn’t paradise, and relationships are never perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Why change when every day is like paradise with someone who makes me feel at home wherever I am?

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Anthony M Palmiero avatar

Anthony M Palmiero

Your a good man Will. Love you

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thanks, Tony! Love you, too!

Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Another great article Will! Besides melting my heart and keeping on educating me (I had to look up poutine), your article was so heartfelt and inspirational. The whole world is yours and Gina's - keep on exploring. MUCH love, Helen

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

We'll definitely keep exploring! Love you, too!

Kate avatar


That's a beautiful story William. I too have a rare mutation... so rare they haven't found it! One common one though.. but NTM, bronchiectasis and the inevitable sweat test result and I'm "Admitted to the Clinic".

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

Thank you!

Gisele F Lapointe avatar

Gisele F Lapointe

Congratulations and long life to you both.

I too had the gene, the most common one, my husband a very rare one, which we did not know we had until I gave birth to our daughter. Fortunately, because we had those two different genes (as you know, there are some 2,000), we did not learn she had CF until she was 19. She married, had three children. Unfortunately, she did not survive a lobe transplantation and passed away at age 43. I keep abreast of the encouraging news, specially that new cases have been declining for the past 20 years.

William Ryan avatar

William Ryan

I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter! May she Rest In Peace.


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