HENRIETTA — Tony Manza carefully maneuvered his wife’s wheelchair down the hall with one hand, while propelling his own wheeled gurney with the other. He’s familiar with the corridors of the Friendship One East nursing unit at Monroe Community Hospital, and he deftly wheeled the chair and gurney around a corner and up to a table in the dining room.
“He does it a lot. It’s his job now,” his wife, Sarah, explained.
Tony and Sarah were married by Father Dennis Bonsignore, chaplain, in the hospital’s auditorium on June 26. The newlywed residents of Friendship 1 East chose the hospital as the site of their nuptials not only because most of their friends are there, but also because that is where they met.
Tony, who has spina bifida, had already been living at the facility for eight years when Sarah arrived there on June 25, 2005.
“I came here because I have multiple sclerosis. It was getting too difficult for my parents (to care for me) at home, so I wanted to come here. I knew they could take care of my needs here,” Sarah said.
When she arrived at the facility, Sarah was hoping to find a man she could develop a strong friendship with.
“It turned out to be more than that, because someone said, ‘Have I got the man for you,'” Sarah recalled during an August interview with the Catholic Courier.
The woman had pointed across the dining room at Tony, and Sarah wheeled over to him, introduced herself and struck up a conversation. The pair hit it off and spent the next several hours talking about “anything and everything,” she said. When Sarah said she wanted to go outside, Tony took the handle of her wheelchair and began to push her in front of him down the hall toward the doors.
Sarah was deeply touched by this act of gentle care, which would soon become routine for the couple.
“He took such good care of me. He just had all the qualities of a gentleman,” Sarah said.
“I’ve been pushing her ever since,” Tony added.
Sarah knew right away that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Tony.
“You just had your mind made up. You wanted to be with me,” he said. Tony himself was equally certain that he’d met the woman for him, he recalled, saying simply, “I just knew.”
Tony and Sarah spent every day together after that fateful meeting in the dining room, and when he proposed to her in October 2005, Sarah answered with an enthusiastic, “Absolutely.” The couple soon began planning their wedding.
“I wanted something simple but grand nonetheless, and I figured we should just have it here,” Sarah said.
Sarah and Tony then asked their friend Father Bonsignore to celebrate their wedding. Father Bonsignore had recently helped Tony through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and Tony said the chaplain also had stood by him during some rough times. Tony was welcomed into the church in December 2005, and Sarah — who had formed her own close relationships with the hospital’s ministry staff while Tony was going through the process — followed in his footsteps a few months later.
On June 26, more than 100 people gathered to celebrate Tony and Sarah’s union. The wedding and reception were joyous events the couple said they will remember and cherish forever.
“I know one thing I’ll remember,” Tony said. “When she started coming down the aisle, she looked me dead in the eye and smiled.”
That look moved Tony to tears, and Sarah vividly remembers that moment, too.
“I remember it because I remember saying to myself, ‘Tony, don’t cry, don’t you make me cry,'” she said. “I didn’t cry, because I was bound and determined not to. It was so much fun that you couldn’t cry at something so beautiful, so happy.”
Tony and Sarah began sharing a room after their wedding, and in the weeks since they’ve grown even closer. They don’t need words to communicate, they said, and can intuitively sense when something is bothering the other. Tony still takes just as good care of Sarah as he did the first day she met him, she said. With him at her side, she said she knows she always has an advocate who will make sure the rest of the world treats her fairly.
“He can express concern, and (everyone) has to listen because he’s my husband,” she said. “He doesn’t put up with much.”
Tony and Sarah haven’t made many plans for the future, but are content with the knowledge that they will spend the rest of their lives together.
“Our love for each other grows stronger every day,” Sarah said.