Valentine Couple of the Year: Erica & David Shea

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Many symbols and decorations are associated with Valentine’s Day: chocolate, roses, cards, the color red, and hearts. Hearts are very meaningful for Erica and David Shea of Stoughton, and not just in a romantic way.

Now in their 20s, the couple met as teenagers. At the age of 16, Erica Fletcher worked at Shaw’s Supermarket in Canton, where she met Tanya Shea of Stoughton, and the two became friends.

David and Erica Shea on their wedding day

David and Erica Shea on their wedding day

Erica knew Danny Shea, Tanya’s brother, through mutual friends, and eventually Erica and the two siblings realized the connection that they shared. One day, the Sheas’ younger brother, David, went into Shaw’s and met Erica. He was 14. Erica was immediately smitten.

“I told my friends, ‘When I’m older, I’m going to marry your brother. He’s so cute,’” she said. “They said, ‘That’s so disgusting!’”

Erica graduated from Canton High School in 2003. After college, she moved to the north shore, but she stayed in touch with her friends from Shaw’s. One day she made plans with Danny Shea to get together for dinner. When she got to Stoughton, only David was there. She and Dave had dinner and watched a movie while waiting for Danny, who didn’t show up that evening. A week later, Dave and Erica had their first date at Legal Sea Foods.

Erica continued driving from the north shore to spend time with Dave, and after a few months of dating, she rented an apartment in Norwood. Shortly thereafter, Dave found a job in Norwood and moved into the apartment. They spent their time working, saving money, and enjoying trips to Mexico, Chicago, and other New England states. Then in 2011, they received some surprising news.

In 2007, Erica had been diagnosed with Stage III Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which was followed by six months of chemotherapy treatment. She also had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). “They told me I could probably never get pregnant,” she said.

In 2011, however, Dave and Erica learned that they were going to be parents.

“Everything was fine until August,” Erica said. She started to go into labor and was given a cervical cerclage, a stitch to help maintain her pregnancy intact. She was also put on bed rest, and was in and out of the hospital until she reached 34 weeks of gestation. In addition to working full-time, Dave cooked, washed the dishes, and did the laundry. He also took care of his wife, helping her to take showers, which was a challenge since Erica could only stand for four minutes at a time. Their son, Ryder Shea, was born on December 4, 2011.

“He was perfect,” Erica said.

Their joy was short-lived. When Ryder was only 4 days old, Erica began having trouble breathing. A few days later she was back in the hospital and was diagnosed with end-stage congestive heart failure. “I went into a coma for six days,” she said.

Doctors told the couple that Erica’s illness was due to complications from both her chemotherapy and the pregnancy and labor.

The Sheas with their son, Ryder

The Sheas with their son, Ryder

Dave proposed to Erica in March of 2012, and the couple married in September of that year at Villa Ridder Country Club in East Bridgewater. Since December of 2013, Erica has been at the top of the list of patients needing a heart transplant. She acknowledges that finding a donor quickly is a challenge.

“I have a rare blood type,” she said. “I had a blood cancer. The donor can’t have certain anti-bodies that would compromise my immune system.”

Erica punctuates her conversation with frequent laughter, in spite of being on medical equipment that she says basically pumps her heart for her as well as the fact that she is very limited in what she can do while she waits for a new heart.

“We’re just happy,” she said of her relationship with Dave. “We try not to let it affect our daily lives. The little things, we get a lot of joy out of them. We appreciate it.”

Recently Erica was in a store with Ryder, who noticed all the Valentine’s Day items that were for sale. “‘My momma needs a heart,’ he told a clerk,” Erica recalled of her visit. “‘Oh, that’s cute,’ she said. Life’s way too short to not be happy.”

She’s not sure what Dave has planned for this February 14. But she said it doesn’t really matter. “It’s just a nice day to celebrate, with this craziness. We just appreciate each other.”

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