Stories to Inspire: Childhood Friends, an MS Diagnosis, and a Dream Come True

Photo of Justeen & Chris
Photo credit: Travis J. Photography

When Justeen first met Chris, they were little kindergarteners. He happened to be best friends with her cousin, who lived next door. The two grew up in the Salt Lake area of Utah, going to the same schools for elementary, junior high, and high school. As the two entered junior high, their friends would say, “You two should date each other! You’re both tall!” But both just smiled and shrugged it off. After high school graduation, the two went their separate ways: Chris attending Southern Utah University on a football scholarship, and Justeen staying in the Salt Lake area, earning her esthetician license.

After college, Justeen took a job in Salt Lake City, working at a hotel spa. Chris finished college and, unbeknownst to Justeen, joined another hotel in Salt Lake City – as a bellman. One afternoon, Justeen walked over to the other hotel (where Chris worked) for lunch and was shocked to run into Chris. Shortly after, the two started dating. After all, they were both tall!

They had no idea how the next four years would shake out. As they began dating, a good friend of Justeen’s unexpectedly passed away. So did Chris’ grandmother, whom he was close to, as well as two of Justeen’s uncles. The two supported each other through these difficult times, and after a year and a half of casually dating, the two became more serious.

But as Justeen and Chris’ relationship grew closer, Chris noticed his body wasn’t its normal self. At an alumni basketball game, Chris could barely run the court and got a pounding headache. Always athletic, Chris found this fairly troubling. Over the next few days, he noticed exercise was extremely difficult and exhausting. And the headaches became more frequent.

At that point, Chris decided to visit a doctor. But he wasn’t sure what doctor to go to or what exactly he would say. It was difficult to put into words the symptoms he was experiencing. But one thing he knew for sure, was that something was wrong. He visited several doctors trying to figure it out. At one doctor visit, the doctor checked his reflexes. Chris displayed no reflexes in his knees. Thinking it was a pinched nerve, the doctor ordered X-rays, but the X-rays showed nothing was pinched. As a next step, the doctor gave Chris an MRI, which showed lesions on his spine. Further examinations showed specific proteins in his cerebrospinal fluid. All of these together led the doctor to diagnose Chris with multiple sclerosis.

Chris was speechless. He’d known something wasn’t right, but his symptoms seemed milder than what you’d expect from someone with MS. And wasn’t he too young? He was only 27! Justeen made the call to Chris’ mother to confirm the diagnosis, who was devastated upon learning the news. Between sobs, she confessed to Justeen that Chris was soon planning to buy an engagement ring, and she wondered how this news would affect his plans.

And it did affect his plans. Their plans. Figuring out how to help Chris manage his disease was a journey for both of them, and not without its ups and downs. Finding the best doctors for him, as well as navigating through insurance issues, took a toll on their relationship. Getting engaged took a back seat. Finding quality time where they could simply focus on their relationship was a challenge. And while Chris realized he now wanted to pursue a career in the medical profession, having the time, energy, and money to pursue more college was now in question.

A year and a half later, after better learning how to manage his disease and work through insurance issues, Chris was able to think about getting married once again. Of course Justeen said yes, but because of insurance and medical costs, the two decided to make it a really simple, no-frills wedding.

That is, until Justeen – on a whim – entered a Utah-based Instagram “Wedding Giveaway,” with a prize valued at $20,000. By that evening, she’d forgotten she’d even entered the contest. A few days later as she was checking her Instagram feed, she was shocked to see her name listed as the winner of the giveaway.

After learning she really won, Justeen couldn’t help but shed tears of relief. Not only were they going to have a wedding, but they were going to enjoy a dream wedding!

Photo of Justeen & Chris at their weddingJusteen and Chris were married on June 30, 2018 in the rustic countryside near Kamas, Utah.

Photo credit: Travis J. Photography

Justeen explains, “I entered the giveaway as a shot in the dark. We were planning on having a simple wedding, and everything about the giveaway gave us what we wouldn’t have been able to afford. It allowed us to invite more people, all of whom had a big impact in our lives, and also gave us the chance to hire the band we both love.”

“All of these local companies [who contributed to the giveaway] are top-notch. We were excited to collaborate for this giveaway and to give one couple their dream wedding,” says Scott Porter, owner of San Diablo Churros and who helped orchestrate the giveaway. “We had no idea that such a deserving couple would end up winning. We are humbled by their story and were honored to help give them the fairytale wedding they deserve.”

Since Chris’s diagnosis, his symptoms come and go, and can last from one day to several weeks. He experiences numbness on the entire left side of his body, and some days the numbness is worse than other days. He struggles daily with balance and coordination, and closing his eyes can at times cause dizziness that is nauseating. Together, these symptoms prevent him from being the former athlete he was.

Chris also has Type 1 diabetes, and a round of steroids meant to correct numbness once caused his blood sugar to skyrocket for a week. Since then, Justeen and Chris work closely together with a nurse to ensure Chris eats a good diet and exercises to maintain his best health possible.

On June 30, 2018, Justeen and Chris were able to experience what it really means to live out a dream wedding, tying the knot in the rustic countryside of Kamas, Utah. “This miracle came at the perfect time for us, when we weren’t sure how everything was going to work out,” says Justeen. “This was an absolute dream come true.”