The Perfect Proposal: A Valentine’s Day Surprise in the NICU

When their baby arrived early, a father had to postpone proposing to the love of his life. Three hundred days later, his proposal, like his daughter’s recovery, became a team effort.

In the spring of 2020, Teon Kennedy had big plans: He was going to surprise his girlfriend, Martine Drouillard, at her baby shower by proposing. But life quickly changed for the couple. As the first surge of COVID-19 was overwhelming New York, Martine learned that she would have to deliver the baby early due to severe preeclampsia. And so on April 12, at 25 weeks, Martine gave birth to Morgan at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. With the health of Mom and baby Morgan becoming everyone’s focus amid a pandemic, Teon’s marriage proposal would have to wait.

A few weeks after her birth, Morgan was transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She later moved to the NICU at NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns when it opened in August. As the couple grew close to the NICU staff over the course of their baby’s care, Teon came up with a new plan for the perfect proposal: He’d pop the question in Morgan’s room, with the entire care team playing an active role in the happy occasion.

It had been a long road, but 10 months after Morgan’s birth — and three days before Valentine’s Day — the moment finally arrived on February 11, 2021. “It’s something that had been on my mind for so long,” says Teon. “I just never had the right moment to make it happen, but our daughter has made tremendous progress at NewYork-Presbyterian. And the team here, they treat us like family, so this was the best place to make this happen.”

Planning the Proposal

In early February, Teon started plotting out the details. He started talking to staff about the idea, and the NICU team helped set his plan in motion: buying decorations for the room, securing a red carpet for Martine, and organizing a socially distanced celebration with plenty of pre-wrapped treats. Teon, meanwhile, crafted a love letter that he asked staff members to read aloud to Martine as she walked down the hall toward Morgan’s room, organized a Zoom so that more than 100 family and friends could watch the event virtually, and bought a dress for Morgan that read “Mommy, Will You Marry Daddy?”

“As soon as we all found out that he wanted to do it here, and have the staff play a very significant role in the proposal, it brought tears to everyone’s eyes,” says Samantha Lentin, child life specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns. “It really meant that we’re a part of their family. We’ve been through it all with them, and he trusted us. We wanted to be able to build these memories with them and make it as amazing as we could for them.”

NICU staff with engaged couple Teon Kennedy and Martine Drouillard

The NICU staff at NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns has become like family to Teon and Martine.

The care team had come up with a ruse to stall Martine that afternoon, giving Teon a moment to take his place as staff waited anxiously outside Morgan’s room. Dr. Jessica Bush, a third-year fellow, asked Martine if she could come in for a formal family meeting as part of her fellowship requirement. She told Martine to dress up for the meeting, and when she arrived, she walked her down the hallway toward Morgan’s room.

As Martine turned the corner, she saw many members of the care team flanking a red carpet with flower petals. They took turns reading the letter written by Teon, and it began to dawn on Martine what was going on. Teon brought Martine into the room with Morgan, where he got down on one knee and offered her not one but two rings, so that she could have her choice. Martine’s answer was a resounding yes, and staff, family, and friends broke into cheers for the couple.

“I’m happy, I’m excited, I’m surprised, I’m overwhelmed,” said Martine. “I don’t even know how to describe the feeling.”

Mom’s Little Warrior

The day was made perfect thanks to Morgan’s role in the proposal. In addition to her dress that asked the big question, she had a “maid of honor” sash, and she woke up just in time to see the moment happen.

Martine describes Morgan as her “warrior and she-ro.” Weighing 1.27 pounds at birth, Morgan has had to undergo several procedures for her brain and lungs due to her extreme prematurity. She continues to fight and has become a cherished member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns family, even earning the nickname “Queen of the NICU.”

Morgan Kennedy, daughter of Teon Kennedy and Martine Drouillard

Morgan played a big part in her parents’ engagement.

“She’s come so far,” says Martine. “Morgan is so loved here. All the love that I’m getting here is as a result of her. She’s made us stronger together and as individuals.”

The staff has been moved by how the family has come together to support Morgan through all the challenges in such a difficult year.

“They’re a great family,” says Dr. Jeffrey Perlman, director of newborn medicine and medical director of the NICU at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine. “Last week, when we had that severe snow storm, I told [Martine] that it’s going to be tough to get to the hospital, and she said, ‘Nothing will stop me.’ It’s very tough to have a very sick baby on the unit for approximately 300 days, but the team has always had faith and constantly provide support, love, and intense caring for Morgan with grace — and always with a smile.”

The proposal brought tears and joy after a long year in which the family experienced their share of ups and downs. The proposal was one of the few times that both Martine and Teon were able to be in the same room with Morgan together since her birth due to restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s a moment they’ll never forget. “Forever just started,” says Martine. “We have a beautiful baby. We were always going to plan a future and a family for us, but now it’s official.”

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