When Dalton and Katie Prager met face to face for the first time, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, though, the pair always knew that their days were numbered, meaning that their time together would be cut tragically short. But the real tearjerker ending to their tale came with Katie’s final words about her husband, spoken just days before her own death.
Katie and Dalton had been 18 when they first met; after Katie had seen a picture that Dalton’s mom had posted on Facebook, she had felt compelled to message him. Dalton was in the hospital at the time and seriously ill; Katie, however, could relate to what he was going.
“If you ever need a friend to talk to, you can reach out to me,” Katie wrote in that initial message to Dalton. By contrast, he replied, “Sorry, but do I know you?” He didn’t, as it happens. Katie recognized, though, that they already had something in common that would bond them for the rest of their lives: that is, that they both had cystic fibrosis.
“My breathing is pretty crappy and I see you are in the hospital,” Katie wrote to Dalton. “I’m sorry. I know it sucks!… But you just gotta stay strong.” Then, after that first exchange, the teenagers began to message each other regularly. Before too long, in fact, their feelings for each other became very real.
But although the teenagers naturally wanted to meet, Katie’s doctor nevertheless advised against it. Those with cystic fibrosis are prone to infection, which can easily be spread to others with the same condition. What’s more, Dalton already had Burkholderia cepacia – a pathogen that could have led to fatal consequences for both of them.
So, Dalton put his own feelings aside and left the decision to Katie. She wrote, however, “I’d rather be happy – like really, really happy – for five years of my life and die sooner than be mediocre happy and live for 20 years.” In fact, the only thing she wanted for her 19th birthday was to meet Dalton.
So, with that in mind, Dalton and his mom started to plan a road trip. And, as it turned out, it took the pair six hours to drive from their home in St. Charles, Missouri, to a Dairy Queen in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, where they had arranged to meet with Katie. From the moment that Katie clapped eyes on Dalton, though, the journey proved worthwhile.
On August 28, 2009, at exactly 7:10 p.m., Katie spotted Dalton leaning against a wall as she climbed out of her car. According to a CNN report, she would later recall, “My heart was racing. But I just went right up to him and hugged and kissed him on the mouth without even saying hello.” She added, “I’m usually not that kind of girl, but it just felt so right.”
And Katie and Dalton’s first date was spent riding the roller coasters at an Ohio amusement park. That activity could perhaps be seen as having been symbolic of their forthcoming life together, too, as things moved quickly for the new couple from that day forward. But, similarly, there were lots of ups and downs along the way – with the first dip proving to be Katie’s health.
Specifically, and as doctors had warned, Katie caught Burkholderia cepacia from Dalton, causing regular hospitalization. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t stop Katie from living her life. So, in January 2010 she moved to Missouri to go to school and be with Dalton. The next month, moreover, the young couple got engaged.
“I am sure many people thought we moved too fast,” Dalton explained on a YouCaring page. “However, we didn’t feel those rules applied to us. Living with a chronic illness forces you to grow up faster than anyone should, so we knew time wasn’t in our favor.”
And although their health was in constant decline, Katie and Dalton couldn’t be happier – as they now had each other. Then, just shy of two years after their first date, the couple married on July 16, 2011. They were surrounded by friends and family, and their dog Marley was also by their side.
The newlyweds then moved into a new home in Flemingsburg and lived their lives as normally as they could. They entertained friends with game nights and dinner parties, for instance, and traveled when their health would allow. “We did stuff, we had fun,” Katie told CNN in September 2016. “It was like something out of a fairy tale.”
Their health would continue to wane, however, until eventually they were both forced to quit their respective jobs. By February 2013, moreover, both Katie and Dalton were on oxygen 24/7. “After both of us were put on oxygen, we knew something had to change,” Dalton described on the YouCaring page. “It’s not fun being 22 and needing oxygen to live your daily life.”
And so the couple’s best way forward, they realized, was to each have a lung transplant – not only to give them a better quality of life but also to prolong their time together. For months they waited for approval on the procedure, during which time their health deteriorated. Mercifully, though, they were both accepted for transplant and were placed on a waiting list.
Then in August 2014 Katie and Dalton were both admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. They were to remain there until suitable lung donors were found. Dalton found a match first, and he subsequently underwent an operation on November 17. But when he woke up, Katie was gone.
For medical reasons, Katie wasn’t allowed contact with her husband until she had had her own transplant. Consequently, their only contact was through phones and computers. Then, after a battle with the hospital and insurance company, that transplant finally happened in July 2015. But it wasn’t to be the ticket to the happy, healthy lives Katie and Dalton had so hoped for.
Indeed, while Dalton initially responded well to his new lungs, he would later contract lymphoma. And although treatment for the cancer worked, he was hospitalized again while suffering from pneumonia and an infection. Meanwhile, Katie’s transplant didn’t take, and so she entered hospice care at her Kentucky home.
Despite the distance between Katie and Dalton, though, they couldn’t be deterred from seeing each other. They used FaceTime to communicate, for instance. But although plans were in place for Dalton to journey to Kentucky to see his wife in person, he was eventually ruled too sick to travel. Then, tragically, Dalton succumbed to the complications arising from his transplant on September 17, 2016. Just five days later, Katie would pass away at home, surrounded by her family.
The last day the couple had spent together was July 16, 2016 – their fifth wedding anniversary. But even given the uncertain nature of their relationship, Katie told CNN the day before her husband’s passing that she had had no regrets about their romance. “I think that if we had gotten the chance to write a book that it would have been a bestseller,” she explained. And the ending? “They lived happily ever after,” Katie said, “in each other’s arms for eternity.”