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Felicia Sutherland recuperates in bed at the Southington Care Center after a horrific automobile crash nearly derailed her wedding plans. She and fiancee Michael Mattingly (R) will be married at the center on Sept. 6. (Mary Ellen Godin / Record-Journal)

Meriden couple’s wedding will go on, though not quite as planned

SOUTHINGTON – The church and reception hall had been booked for months, and the best man was recently granted leave from the military to stand up for his brother at his Sept. 6 wedding.

Then the unthinkable happened.

During Felicia Sutherland’s early morning commute through East Hampton, another driver collided head on into the bride-to-be’s vehicle at the intersection of Routes 16 and 66. Sutherland could barely move and was trapped as smoke and flames began to surround the car at the crash scene. Strangers pulled her out of the burning car and laid her on some nearby grass. The strangers also found her cell phone and called her fiancée Michael Mattingly, who called his parents. He arrived at the crash scene to find she had been taken to a landing site at the Marlborough Health Care Center. He got there in time to say “I love you” just as Sutherland was airlifted to Hartford Hospital.

“I was shaking,” said Mattingly, of Meriden. “I remember the paramedic saying ‘she’s in good hands, but I don’t want to have to come back for you.’ I was done driving.”

Mattingly’s parents, John and Susan Mattingly, took over and drove their son to the trauma center at Hartford Hospital where Sutherland underwent surgery to put metal rods in her left arm. A full CT scan revealed multiple fractures in her pelvis, right shoulder and tail bone, but no internal organs were injured.

After spending eight days at Hartford Hospital, Sutherland was transferred to Southington Care Center for rehabilitation. Sutherland, who never lost consciousness but was in severe pain, knew the wedding would have to be postponed. She can’t put any weight on her left leg for six weeks and it’s questionable if she can sit in a wheelchair for too long. The wedding ceremony had been set for Center Congregational Church in Meriden, and a reception for 170 people at Il Monticello in Meriden. Fortunately, the couple didn’t lose any deposits and were able to rebook both venues for an October ceremony.

“Obviously, we had to go to a plan B,” Sutherland said.

But Mattingly’s brother Kevin, who is in the U.S. Navy and his wife who is in the U.S. Airforce in Hawaii, had recently announced their leave was approved. It wasn’t something that could easily be rescheduled. And Mattingly was determined to be married on Sept. 6.

“We wanted him here, so we went with the date,” Sutherland said.

The Mattinglys spoke with Sutherland’s doctor Joseph Babiarz, who gave his blessing and notified the staff.

“He said, ‘Sue, I have a job for you. You have a wedding to plan,’” said unit secretary Susan Keim. “It’s something we’ve never done here.”

The center’s staff jumped into action and helped the couple plan an intimate 5 p.m. ceremony in the center’s healing garden with the Rev. Phil Brockett of the Center Congregational Church officiating. One staff member made sure to let the couple know they had to get their marriage license in Southington, and a town official brought the paperwork to Sutherland’s bedside. The staff discussed putting white lights on the pergola while the garden provided the flowers. The dietary staff took over the food and beverages. The center’s hairdresser agreed to do Sutherland’s hair, and a volunteer who plays the guitar and a f lute will provide the music.

“The participation of the staff is phenomenal,” Keim said.

Sutherland’s mother and brother will come from Maine and some close family members and friends will witness the couple take their vows.

Sutherland is determined to be walking by the October event and will wear her wedding gown.

Susan and John Mattingly heaped praise on the center’s staff for being so attentive to the couple’s dream wedding date, and for the care they’ve given to their soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

Sutherland and her new family know things could of turned out much worse.

“We’re just glad she’s OK,” Susan Mattingly said. “Everybody has been so understanding and wonderful.” (203) 317-2255 Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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