Aimee and Yuriy's Miracle Love Story Adds New Chapter
Love is patient. Love is kind, the Bible says.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Aimee and Yuriy Zmysly’s love story is all of that — and now even more.
It started as puppy love.
On Oct. 6, 2004, Aimee was just 18 years old and had just broken up with her high school sweetheart when she met Yuriy, a tall, handsome Marine corporal with green eyes that sometimes look blue. She watched him at the skate park. They went bowling and talked nonstop.
About a month later, Yuriy asked Aimee to marry him. He got down on one knee and everything. Aimee knew Yuriy had orders that would send him to war — two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan battle zones, in fact. But she loved him — and it all seemed so right.
She said, "Yes," and promised to wait for him. As often as war would allow, Yuriy wrote Aimee the sweetest love letters. She kept every one in a paper box marked "Memories."
In August 2005, Yuriy made it home safe. Aimee rushed to greet him. She was so excited to start her life with the man she loved.
As fate would have it, Aimee had to wait.
Five months after Yuriy got home from war — Jan. 9, 2006, to be precise — he suffered a brain injury after a routine surgery at a North Carolina military hospital.
He nearly died three times — and was left unable to walk, talk or see.
Aimee didn’t leave his side. She fought to get Yuriy back to Chicago and into the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. There, with intense therapy, Yuriy regained the ability to breathe on his own and eat pureed food.
Then Yuriy got a letter informing him he had been "medically retired" from the Marines. That cut his benefits and left no way to pay for the intense therapy he was getting at the Rehabilitation Institute.
Yuriy was transferred to Hines Veterans Hospital where doctors told Aimee that Yuriy — bedridden and helpless — had recovered as much as he ever would. She wouldn’t let Yuriy stay there to “rot in a hospital bed.”
So they moved to Aimee’s parents' house, confined to a single room so crowded with a hospital bed and Yuriy’s rehab equipment that it was difficult to maneuver his wheelchair.
Aimee was 20 years old — healthy and vibrant with her whole life ahead of her — when she decided that nothing was more important that being with Yuriy.
“People said I could just leave him,” Aimee told me in 2010. “But I can’t. I love him. And I want to be with him forever.”
On Dec. 20, 2006, Aimee followed through with their engagement and married Yuriy in a simple courthouse ceremony that was nothing like the wedding of her dreams.
Their commitment to each other helped Yuriy break free from a deep depression. He went to therapy. He started to eat solid food. He looked forward to their future together.
Since then, Yuriy has built up his strength. At therapy, Yuriy works out in a pool to build strength and rides horses to improve his balance. He’s been snow skiing and riding modified bicycles.
With a little help, he can stand up on his own now, and on a good day, walk a few hundred feet with a walker.
I wrote about their struggle to stay together. The headline, Aimee and Yuriy: A Love Story, splashed across the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times. Readers sent contributions to Salute Inc., the not-for-profit organization that helped them move into a fully furnished house renovated to make room for Yuriy’s wheelchair.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin read it, too. Durbin was so inspired that he pushed for the passage of the federal Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act in 2011.
The so-called Care Givers Act allows family members to get paid for taking care of severely disabled veterans. The extra income helped the Zmyslys pay their bills. Aimee even saved up enough cash to pay for her first college class. She got a B in math last semester.
Today, they’re happy. Well, happy as any couple can be.
When Aimee says, “Sometimes, I drive him crazy," Yuriy smiles and nods his head excitedly and grunting, “Uh, uh, uh,” in agreement.
"He drives me crazy, too," Aimee says, smiling. “We’re very blessed. Blessed to have such a good family and support system. We’re very lucky.”
Aimee will tell you that through all their struggles and setbacks — and the depression, anger and frustration that came with them — loving Yuriy has always been enough for her.
But, as fate would have it, there’s more.
On May 28, Aimee announced it to the world on Facebook.
“So guess what?” she wrote. “Yuriy and I are expecting our first baby.”
Long before Yuriy lost his ability to speak, he told Aimee how much he wanted to be a father and hoped to have a daughter one day.
“We didn’t really know if we could after all the stuff that he’s been through. All the medication. We weren’t sure,” she said. “This is truly a miracle. I’m still in disbelief.”
On Friday, Aimee and Yuriy let me tag along on their trip to My Baby Bump — a place that offers ultrasound pictures and video of your unborn baby for a fee and tells parents whether they should expect a boy or girl.
Aimee’s parents, her brother, sister-in-law and nephew, and Yuriy’s brother crowded the room. They watched as My Baby Bump owner Mary Vacey steadied a wand near the tiny star tattoo on Aimee's belly.
They all hoped that the baby would be the daughter that Yuriy always wanted.
“Are you guys ready?” Vacey asked.
“Yes, yes,” Aimee said.
Vacey broke the news: “Team Girl wins."
Aimee squealed and threw both hands skyward in celebration.
“Are you serious?” Aimee said, staring at the monitor. “That is so awesome.”
Yuriy, shaking and smiling, unleashed an excited series of grunts that sounded like a car alarm going off — "Ah, ah, ah, ah."
Aimee cradled Yuriy’s head in her hand, gently rubbing his neck.
Aimee's mom started to cry. Her father patted his son-in-law on the shoulder.
“They’ve come a long way with everything that’s happened. I didn’t realize my daughter had the tenacity she displayed over the last few years. I’m just glad you guys are happy,” Larry Pierog said. “You’ve had a lot of sad things happen, and now it’s a happy time.”
It’s more than that, Aimee said.
“It feels like now our life can start,” she said. “A new chapter. A better chapter.”