Sometimes, even when life throws the biggest curveballs, things have a way of going as planned anyway — especially when love is in the mix.
Back in 2008, Kate Porreca started to notice that Drew Herrington, one of her coworkers at Ryan Homes in Swedesboro, was becoming a bit of a regular at the fax machine near her desk.
“He was a someone who was easy to talk to,” she said. The two became office friends and each secretly developed a crush on the other. (Some of those faxes Drew sent were blank; he just needed an excuse to visit, he later admitted.) When Kate, then 27, finally built up the nerve to tell Drew, then 29, that she liked him, he was shocked.
The feeling was mutual, he told her.
After a first date at Bridget Foy’s in Philadelphia, there was no looking back, and they were soon spending their weekends, holidays, and vacations together. A year later, when the couple traveled to Niagara Falls, Canada, to meet Drew’s grandparents, they each said, “I love you.” Drew rented his Somerdale home and moved into Kate’s East Greenwich townhouse with his cat, Leon.
“We talked about getting engaged,” Kate said.
About a year later, on April 9, 2012, Kate was on the phone with Drew when he began slurring his speech and abruptly ended the call.
“I knew something was wrong,” Kate said. She frantically called and texted, but he didn’t pick up.
Drew had sensed he was in trouble and pulled into a parking lot before collapsing behind the wheel. A passerby called police. Drew was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was diagnosed as having had a stroke.
“His right side was paralyzed and he couldn’t talk,” said Kate. He was transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where he underwent surgery to alleviate the swelling in his brain. Afterward, he was transferred to the intensive care unit, with an uncertain prognosis.
As his girlfriend, Kate had no legal say in Drew’s care — his parents called the shots. But every step of the way, they treated her like family and involved her in all decisions, she said.
Post-op, Drew gave them "little assurances he was ‘still there,’” said Kate. He quickly mastered the thumbs-up and thumbs-down response to questions. After 10 days, he was transferred to McGee Rehabilitation Hospital in Center City to begin physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
The gravity of what had happened didn’t hit Kate until she saw Drew in a wheelchair, wearing a protective helmet.
“'This is going to be our life,'” she remembered thinking. “We didn’t know what the future held.”
Kate’s resolve and love for Drew never wavered. When acquaintances would ask if she was still serious about a future with him, she would set them straight: Drew was her person. She knew nothing would be the same, but she had hope.
“I always felt like he was going to get better," Kate said. “I just kept going."
And, so did Drew.
He endured five months of inpatient therapy, with Kate visiting every day. When he was released to a day program, he had to move into his grandparents’ and parents’ ranch house in Somerdale for a while, because he couldn’t handle the stairs of the East Greenwich townhouse he shared with Kate. He was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation program in Cherry Hill, which was closer to home.
There were some dark days, said Drew. But he would take a breath, accept what happened, and persevere. He was eventually able to walk with a cane. And although the stroke had left him with limited ability to speak, he was able to speak clearly if he stuck with short sentences. It took some time, but he was finally able to move back into the townhouse with Kate and then, with the use of an adapted car and many lessons, he resumed driving.
His first solo trip?
“Probably Wawa,” said Kate.
“No, Dunkin’ Donuts,” said Drew with a laugh.
On Dec. 7, 2013, the couple planned a date night to celebrate Drew’s birthday, but what Kate didn’t know was that for weeks he had been practicing four special words: “Will. You. Marry. Me?"
Kate knew they would eventually marry, but the proposal at her townhouse — complemented by the roses and Champagne Drew had stashed in a duffel — was still a surprise.
“Then we planned a wedding,” she said. There were about 100 guests when the couple tied the knot at Braddock’s Tavern in Medfordon Oct. 10, 2014, followed by a honeymoon in Palm Beach, Fla.
Once back home, Drew focused on growing his house-flipping business, Herrington Homes, and Kate, now a sales manager at Ryan Homes, threw herself back into her job. They spent the next year building a ranch house to accommodate Drew’s lingering mobility issues. When it was finished, Drew — a big animal fan — brought home a fluffy cat named Sweetie. Leon, by then, had died.
As the couple began settling in to their new normal, the subject of having a baby came up. They’d always talked about having two children. Now, they wondered if one child was something they could they handle, given that Drew has limited use of his right arm and leg. By now, Kate was 35, so they just decided to try. A few months later, she was pregnant.
Kate was having an ultrasound at an early OB appointment when the technician enlisted the opinion of another tech. Kate’s heart sunk when they asked for Drew, who was in the waiting room, to come into the exam area.
“Is this bad news?” Kate wondered at the time.
When the technician turned the screen so the couple could see the results, the emotions flowed. There were two sacks: Baby A and Baby B.
“Joy. Joy,” Drew said. He remembers laughing at the news.
“Fear. Shock,” said Kate, adding that she broke into tears.
This news was completely unexpected. Twins do not run in their families.
At almost two years of age, Liv and Claire are now the center of their parents’ universe. Elmo and Big Bird are huge, colors are the new words, and Sweetie the cat is a big source of amusement. A foam balance beam and gym mat take up the floor space not covered by plastic toys and dolls, and there are endless shrieks and giggles during afternoon playtime.
“This is the joy on the other side of the stroke,” said Kate. “This is our family. This is us.”
“We’re good," said Drew.
In spite of all they have been through, life for the Herringtons continues as they always planned — with two rambunctious toddlers and a fluffy cat in a house filled with love.