Probably the most personal moment in their lives so far — that moment you probably recall, when she, wide-eyed, took her first breaths with her newly transplanted, healthy lungs — was shared more than 100 million times online.
Now for the big encore.
Tuesday night on live television, Jennifer Jones and Rob Ronnenberg, of Byron, will be married on a nationwide reality show, Lifetime’s “My Great Big Live Wedding with David Tutera.”
It’s a newish weekly program that selects “America’s most deserving couples,” tells their touching stories and washes their nuptials in glitz and glamour.
Jennifer, 41, and Rob, 39, were contacted by the producers after they had posted a series of internet videos, starting with one in October 2017, showing Jennifer taking her first breaths following lung transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic.
Jennifer has cystic fibrosis, and her breathing problems had taken a severe turn by the summer of 2017, when she was listed for transplant at Mayo. The recovery, with some ups and downs, has overall been “fabulous,” she said, enabling her now to do “a lot of the little things,” like “playing with my kids or just walking down nine stairs to go tuck my kids into bed.”
“I can’t watch that video … without crying every time,” she said. “It’s just amazing being able to breathe again,” she said. “It’s a completely different world than what I was living in before.”
Yet, while they have a deserving story, they are also, in Jennifer’s words, “simple folk,” and in Rob’s words, “not really big attention people” — and thus really not the reality-TV types.
Sure, their description of what’s about to happen is peppered with all of the “amazings” and “incredibles” and “I can’t believe its” that many of us would probably use in their place. And, let’s be honest, it will be a ceremony and celebration beyond their wildest dreams.
But their participation in this, the couple says, boils down to just a small handful of big things — mainly one that is public and a couple personal.
First, the public one: “It’s given us a platform for our cause — cystic fibrosis awareness and the need for organ donation,” Rob said. “We do appreciate it from that angle.”
It’s not enough to just check the box on your driver’s license that says you’re a donor. “The important thing is to share your wishes with your family,” Rob said. “Your family has to make that decision. They can say, ‘We didn’t know.’ … They can choose not to donate.”
Speaking of donors: That’ll be one of the personal aspects of the ceremony for Jennifer, who plans to carry a small photo of Lacey, the donor whose lungs made Jennifer’s new life possible.
“It was important to me to somehow honor her through this,” she said. “Obviously, we wouldn’t be here without her.” Lacey’s mother provided the photo, which has been worked into the bridal bouquet.
And the ceremony will not be complete without a big role for one of Jennifer’s biggest backers.
“My dad walking me down the aisle is something that is very, very special to me,” she said. “I think that’s going to be a special moment for him and me.”
Most other aspects of Tuesday’s wedding are secret — the location in St. Paul; the wedding dress, which Jennifer tried on Friday wearing a blindfold; and a handful of other surprises waiting to be hatched on the couple, their guests and TV viewers.
Post-wedding, the couple will live in Byron, combining their families — Rob’s two grown children and 15-year-old daughter, and Jennifer’s 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. She is a photographer, he works in the Rochester Building Safety Department. They’ve been engaged for about three and a half years.
No honeymoon is planned for now. “We wouldn’t even be getting married yet if it wasn’t for this show and the dream wedding,” Rob said. “We didn’t have plans, and we’ve been focused on her health and everything else. This has really been an amazing thing.”
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