January 9, 2023 | Our Patients

Wedding made possible by STARS

Wedding portrait of Dwayne and Sharon Strong, both STARS Very Important Patients, photo courtesy Jennifer Vanderplas, Etched in Time Photos
Cover image courtesy of Jennifer Vanderplas, Etched in Time Photos.



Ten years after STARS provided critical care to Sharon Vanderplas, she married the love of her life.

But she wouldn’t have been able to marry Dwayne Strong if STARS hadn’t also saved his life.

The icing on the wedding cake of these two Very Important Patients was a top-secret invitation from the bride’s father, Andy Vanderplas, to have STARS attend. He wanted to surprise the couple. We let him know we would try our best.

Imagine his surprise when his daughter’s flight nurse, the one who cared for Sharon Vanderplas when she fell unconscious years earlier, rose at the wedding reception and introduced herself as Sandra Young.

“My dad was in shock, and I was a puddle of tears,” said the bride. “Everyone cried. All the memories of when I nearly died came flooding back. Sandra held my hand on the way to the hospital and made sure I was going to be okay, and here she was at our wedding.”

For flight nurse Young, who recently retired from STARS after 27 years, attending the wedding was a rare experience and a career highlight.

“It was an amazing day to be part of,” said Young, who attended with Kellie Ann Vogelaar, also a STARS flight nurse. “The shock on everyone’s faces when I revealed I was the one who cared for Sharon was palpable,” said Young. “It hit a nerve with everyone — especially her parents and sister. Her mom sobbed in my arms, and it was an act of gratitude I have never experienced in my 45 years of nursing.”

Long before he was critically injured, Strong had shown an interest in Vanderplas, but she was working through  a mastocytosis diagnosis, which is what caused her collapse, and a relationship wasn’t in the cards at that time.

“One day, a friend let me know that Dwayne was critically injured after falling down a mountain. STARS was sent to help,” she recalled.

Strong was hurt while paragliding. His wing clipped the rocks, and he spun into the cliffside.

“I was plummeting, and my wing crumpled into a paper ball, so it slowed me down enough to survive the 65-metre drop. I hit the rocks and I blacked out. When I woke up, I figured I would die. I could hear my friend — the best man at our wedding — screaming, asking if I was okay.”

Strong shattered nearly every bone and injured his spine. He needed urgent transport and specialized care, so STARS was called.

“By rights I should have been dead,” he said.

“My friend said he might not make it,” said Vanderplas. “So I went to the hospital, because if what she said was true, I needed Dwayne to know how much I truly cared about him. If he had a long road ahead, I wanted to take that road with him.”

That was the beginning of the couple’s happily ever after.

“Her visit gave me life,” said Strong. “I probably needed her more than she needed me. I was at a low point thinking about my future.”

From that visit in the hospital, their relationship blossomed, and this summer, six years after Dwayne’s incident, they were married.

“If STARS hadn’t been there that day for Dwayne, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with this wonderful man and found my forever person,” said Vanderplas.

Both are grateful to the donors who made their missions possible.

“I am nothing but thankful,” said the groom. “STARS gave me Sharon. Although I can’t climb mountains or do some of the activities I used to do, I am thankful for everything I do have.”

Meeting Vogelaar and Young capped a perfect day, said Strong.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to meet the nurse who made sure Sharon lived.”

Photo of newlyweds Dwayne and Sharon Strong with STARS nurses Sandra Young and Kellie Ann Vogelaar

Photo: Retired flight nurse Sandra Young, left and STARS flight nurse Kellie Ann Vogelaar surprised the bride, groom, and all of their guests.

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