With their 25th wedding anniversary looming large, Mary Anne Casey and Rick DeOliveira had plenty to celebrate — many years of happy memories, good friends, and spectacular travel.
In fact, the Center City couple had a fantastic trip planned: three whole weeks cycling through Spain and driving around Portugal. But then COVID-19 happened. Adios, fantastic trip. They needed a Plan B.
And so on May 19, the same day 25 years ago they gathered in St. Patrick’s Church on Bayshore, Long Island, they were standing outside Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, meeting up with four of their closest friends, to do something equally life-affirming.
They were there to give blood.
“We were just trying to think of something really positive we could do, and Rick came up with this idea,” Casey said. “Rather than just making it about us, we wanted to try to do something bigger. It’s not at all what we originally planned, but it’s turning out to be awesome.”
The folks at Jefferson’s Blood Donor Center thought so, too.
“It’s a wonderful thing that they are celebrating their life together by potentially saving someone else’s life,” said Julie Karp, medical director of the donor center. “It’s quite poetic.”
Earlier in the pandemic, there were acute blood shortages, according to Karp and the American Red Cross. Many hospitals stopped or cut elective procedures. Jefferson is currently accepting blood donations by appointment only to keep the process as safe as possible for donors and staff.
But the worry is the unknown — if the pandemic gets worse, if donations drop off.
“We’re just trying to focus on making sure the blood continues to come at a steady pace,” said Karp.
So Casey, DeOliveira, and friends were there to do their part, including wearing matching “Be Posi+ive” face masks that were made by Casey, a graphic designer, as a play on her blood type and the spirit of the day.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re choosing to celebrate in a way that helps other people,” said friend Betsy Oliphant Ross, 46, Philadelphia Magazine advertising director, who arrived with her husband, lawyer Andrew Ross, 67, on a motor scooter.
“Yo! Is it a wedding?” one Philly motorist yelled out to the celebrants clustered outside the donor center.
“A 25th anniversary!” the groom replied, getting a thumbs-up in return.
All in all, an appropriately lighthearted celebration for a couple with a frisky love story.
“We met playing co-ed double volleyball against each other,” said DeOliveira, recently retired from a human resources career. “As my lovely wife will tell you, I was playing with my girlfriend at the time.”
Ah, hmm. Anyway, for the next four years, Casey, who then lived in New York City, and DeOliveira, who resided in North Jersey, would run into each other at volleyball games. They’d always be glad to see each other.
“He was just a really great guy, but he always had a girlfriend,” Casey said.
DeOliveira finally asked her out. “He claims he had a crush on me, but he hid it well,” said Casey.
Their first date was July 29, 1994. By Christmas, they were engaged. The wedding was May 19, 1995, a small, intimate affair for 20 family members and friends, followed the next day by a big blowout on a party boat rented for the occasion.
Their fete at the Blood Donor Center was different.
In the center, relaxing after giving blood, the couple imbibed ginger ale instead of Champagne. And they received a congratulatory Insomnia Cookie cake, a gift from the staff.
If Casey were to offer advice to couples just starting out, she’d tell them to sweat the small stuff.
“It’s one of the things I feel we do really well is sweat the small stuff and talk about it before it turns into big stuff,” she said. “Not everything has to become a big deal before you deal with it.”
And what about that fantastic, canceled trip?
DeOliveira said their journeys may be limited to road trips for a while, but time will tell.
“We’ll see what’s going to be, in the post-COVID world,” he said. “It’s going to open at some point.”
As for the rest of their anniversary, the couple, who celebrate the 19th of every month, had loose plans. Maybe brunch. Maybe takeout that night one from one of their favorite restaurants.
All they knew for sure was they were going home together. And in the post-COVID world — or any world — that’s all that mattered.