In sickness and in health! Lovers who who suffer the same rare condition fall in love and get married twenty years after they first met in hospital
- Emily and Cameron Kohlman, both born with bladder exstrophy, married in 2015
- They met at the age of four in hospital with the condition that affects 1 in 50,000
- They sneaked their first kiss under a pile of teddy bears in recovery from hip ops
- Daughter Everleigh Grace, 2, was born without the rare condition they both have
A couple who met as children in hospital battling the same rare condition shared their first kiss under a pile of cuddly toys – and tied the knot 20 years later.
Emily, 28, and Cameron Kohlman, 27, both suffered with bladder exstrophy, a birth defect which causes a baby’s bladder to develop outside the body in the womb.
The pair were just four years old when they were scheduled to have surgery within days of each other at the same hospital.
Emily and Cameron Kohlman on their wedding day, 20 years after meeting in hospital where they were being treated for the same bladder birth defect
They bonded while recovering and even kissed in the Ronald McDonald house’s playroom.
Nine years later, Emily reached out to the little boy she first met in hospital and soon fell in love.
Emily and Cameron are proud parents to daughter Everleigh Grace, 2
In November 2012, Cameron, a car salesman, popped the question and the lovebirds tied the knot three years later.
They are now proud parents to daughter Everleigh Grace, 2.
Emily, a team leader in a medical billing department from Canton, Ohio, USA, said: ‘We have bladder exstrophy to thank for everything in our life.
‘Without this birth ‘defect’, I wouldn’t have met the man I married, the father of my daughter.’
Bladder exstrophy occurs in approximately one in every 50,000 live births.
It happens when the skin on the infant’s lower abdominal wall does not form properly so the bladder is exposed and unable to store urine.
Both Emily and Cameron underwent surgery soon after birth and, when they were four, they were scheduled to have a bladder neck reconstruction, an operation which would help them gain urinary continence.
Emily said: ‘Cameron and I were born with our bladders on the outside.
‘Because the condition is so rare we both sought help from John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, even though I was from Wisconsin and Cameron was from Ohio.
Childhood sweethearts Cameron and Emily at the Ronald McDonald house in 1995, where they played video games and kissed in the playroom
‘I do remember meeting him.
‘It was very nice to meet someone with the same thing, even just to have someone to play with in the hospital.
‘We would play Nintendo while we were at the Ronald McDonald house recovering together.’
It was just as important for Emily’s mom Sara Broeren, 54, an insurance representative, and dad Todd Broeren, 55, an electrician, to meet Cameron’s parents, Lisa, 55, a car sales manager, and Kevin, 59, an engineer.
‘It was important for us to know each other, but it was even more important for our parents to meet people who had gone through the same thing,’ she said.
‘We really started to get to know each other.
After operations at John Hopkins Hospital in baltimore to reshape their hip bones, Cameron and Emily where wheeled around the city in special wagons by their parents. Later they shared their first kiss under a pile of teddy bears in the playroom
‘During the operation, the doctor broke our hip bones and placed them closer together.
‘While we were healing, they put steel pins in our hips to let the bones set properly and we had to be careful how we laid down.
‘We both lay in these wagons and our mothers wheeled us around Baltimore.
‘When we did get our pins out and we were healing, there was a big pile of teddy bears in the playroom and Cameron kissed me under those teddy bears.
‘It felt special but of course I had no idea that my first kiss would turn into my husband.’
Emily and Cameron at the Ronald McDonald House in 1995, when they were both undergoing treatment for the congenital abnormality bladder exstrophy
Cameron added: ‘We were always running around and causing mischief in the Ronald McDonald house.
‘I snuck her underneath the teddy bear stack and stole a kiss while our parents were in the other room.’
After the two weeks in hospital and six weeks at the Ronald McDonald house, Emily and Cameron returned to their own homes.
Emily never forgot Cameron and in 2004 she asked Sara if she still had the family’s phone number.
‘I always remembered that little boy and I asked my mom if she was still in contact with his mom,’ Emily recalled.
‘She gave me the phone number but she called first because I was so nervous.
‘Cameron and I started emailing and talking on the phone, we could relate to each other on a different level because we had been through the same thing.
‘We were both in middle school and it was a very fragile time.’
Cameron and Emily ride a merry-go-round in 1995, when they were both being treated for bladder exstrophy
While Emily had few health problems after her operation, Cameron’s bladder had perforated, requiring more surgeries.
She said: ‘I haven’t had any other complications.
‘I’ve had a few minor reconstructions to normalize my scars and make me feel more comfortable in a bathing suit.
‘My bladder is smaller than other people’s and I need to go to the restroom more frequently, but that’s it.
‘Cameron’s bladder actually perforated and he needed more surgeries.’
Cameron Kohlman surprised Emily with a visit on Memorial Day in 2006 after she got back in touch with him by phone in 2004
For Memorial Day 2006, Emily surprised Cameron with a visit.
It was the first time they had met since their hospital stay.
‘We had been racking up some hefty phone bills with all our calls to each other,’ she said.
‘To be honest, when we met it was quite awkward at first. But that only lasted for about ten minutes. Soon it was fine.
‘We were old friends and it was like no time had passed. It was everything I had hoped it would be. We started dating shortly afterwards.
Cameron Kohlman proposed to Emily in November 2012 by pulling a ring from his cowboy boot. They were married in August 2015 (right)
‘I moved to Ohio in 2012 and just a few months later, in November 2012, Cameron asked me to marry him.
‘He got down on one knee and pulled a ring out of his cowboy boot. He told me how much I meant to him and how important life together would be.’
The couple wed in August 2015 and in October 2016 Emily fell pregnant.
Although overjoyed at the news, the couple worried that the baby would also be born with bladder exstrophy.
Emily explained: ‘Doctors didn’t have a whole lot of research and they didn’t know if we would pass it on to our children.
‘We were very concerned but we did think: who better to take care of a baby with bladder exstrophy?
‘It didn’t stop us from wanting a family.
‘It was a scary time until the 20-week scan when I found out my baby’s bladder was in the proper place and not outside of the body.’
Emily gave birth to her and Cameron’s daugher Everleigh Grace on May 23 2017, who has not inherited the bladder defect they were both born with
Little Everleigh Grace was born perfectly healthy on May 23 2017.
Emily said: ‘She is completely healthy and very sassy.’
The couple support other bladder exstrophy sufferers by working with Courage To Shine, an organisation founded to celebrate people who overcome birth defects.
Emily said: ‘We try to advocate to teenagers, kids and adults with bladder exstrophy that they are going to be alright.
‘My birth defect led me to the greatest gift, Cameron.’
Cameron added: ‘It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day things – work, family stuff – but when I stop to think how we actually met and had this beautiful little girl, it blows my mind.’
Cameron and Emily Kohlman with their two-year-old daughter Everleigh Grace, who was born without the bladder defect they both suffer from
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