NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Melissa Murdoch currently gets her nutrition through a tube that is connected to her vein. She has gastroparesis, an illness where the stomach cannot properly empty itself of any food consumed.
“After the kind of year that we’ve had, we’ve had a lot of health struggles in the last year and a half," Murdoch said. "It’s just been overwhelming.”
At the same time, she and her Navy husband, Shane, are planning their church wedding and are still determined to finish planning it. Their story is like a fairy tale, and like some fairy tales, they received help from a fairy godmother -- fashion designer Vera Wang.
"I wasn’t expecting to meet her at all, and then all of a sudden she walked out of the back room and she said, ‘Hi, Melissa - I’m Vera Wang.’” Murdoch said.
Murdoch met Wang at her flagship store in New York City. The Murdochs were one of 11 military couples that won an all-expenses paid shopping trip to the store to pick out their favorite wedding gown, tuxedo and accessories at no charge.
Wang teamed up with Brides Across America, an organization that helps military brides obtain a wedding gown. The two organizations started a nationwide contest where military couples had to explain why they should win.
Murdoch said she did not think she would win, but she entered anyway. She said she had tears of happiness when she found out she won and that she would meet Wang.
“I was kind of like, 'Oh my goodness.' I didn’t even get a chance to get a picture because I was in such shock," Murdoch said. "She gave me a big hug and said, 'I’m so glad you’re here.'”
The store was open just for the contest winners. Murdoch said no gown was off-limits, and she tried on several until she found the perfect gown. She said she also obtained gowns and tuxedos for her children.
"So, the gown is strapless. It’s fitted just until it gets below the knee," Murdoch explained. "It wasn’t something I was really anticipating when I was trying it on. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I did.”
It was not just the wedding gown and tuxedo. Wang went so far as to give them other gifts such as sunglasses, cologne, perfume and a book personally autographed for the couple.
Shane was not able to attend because he could not get time off from work. Murdoch said she picked out his tuxedo.
“Poor guy couldn’t get the time off from work, so he was working," Murdoch said. "I felt bad, but I was so glad I got to share it with my daughter. I felt bad he wasn’t getting to share in it, too.”
Murdoch said she and Shane were civilly married a year and a half ago. They've known each other since high school, but Murdoch said Shane reached out to her five years ago and they started seeing each other afterwards.
The couple will have their church wedding in October 2021. The attire, as well as the ring and footwear, is expected to arrive soon.
For the couple who endured Murdoch's health struggles, the gifts from Wang were a blessing.
"I could never say 'thank you' enough," Murdoch said. "'Thank you' - it’s not big enough because it’s just been a mood enhancer, a stress reliever. It’s just changed the dynamic; it’s brought a lot of happiness back."