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Georgia nurse surprised at airport with proposal after returning from volunteering in New York hospitals

A couple serving as essential workers, will now spend the rest of their lives making sure they know how essential they are to each other.

ATLANTA — Many of us have had that moment -- running frantically through an airport to catch a plane. But, on May 16, Nick Stidham ran though Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to catch the love of his life.

“She’s very intentional and very caring and never gives herself the credit that she deserves,” Stidham said, describing his girlfriend, Carly Preston.

As a nurse of four years, Preston, volunteered to go to New York City's Bellevue Hospital in April.

“I had decided to go and about a week later, I was on the plane,” Preston explained.

"She said, 'If I go there and I don't save anybody, but I'm there to hold their hand when they pass away and they know that they're not alone, then I've done my job,'" Stidham proudly added.

Their temporary separation proved difficult. The couple hadn't spent more than a day or two apart since meeting online in 2018. Now, Preston worked to save lives, seeing pain and death all around her.

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"The first two weeks were awful. They were a living hell to be honest with you."

Meanwhile, Stidham, a chemistry teacher at Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn, needed to stay, to educate students online through general, Honors and, AP courses.

“I found online school a lot more work than teaching in an online setting, because there’s a lot more prep work that goes into a new format,” he said. “I felt really, really stressed for the first two or three weeks and thinking I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if, how I’m going to be able to handle this with all the extra work and her being in New York?”

Their daily solace? A night time FaceTime chat, as they prayed for guidance.

“I couldn’t fall asleep until I head his voice and we prayed. This peace washed over me," Preston said quietly.

The whole time, however, Stidham, was preparing his next step.

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"I knew about a week into her being there that I was going to propose as soon as she got back.”

Six weeks later, Preston's 7:30 p.m. arrival flight to Hartsfield-Jackson landed early; sending an already nervous Stidham into a panic.

"I looked at my sister and said 'I'm going to puke. I'm going to throw up, I'm so nervous right now that we aren't going to make it.'"

Spoiler alert: he made it.

Credit: Nick Stidham and Carly Preston

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Preston remembered walking up, seeing her family holding a banner, which she quickly found out, had a message on both sides. 

"The side that I walked up to said 'welcome home Carly, our healthcare hero.' He brought me around to the other side of the sign and it said 'will you marry me?'"

She said yes, in case you wondered.

Preston and Stidham, a couple serving as essential workers, will now spend the rest of their lives making sure they know how essential they are - to each other.

"He's what got me through the days, a lot of the days," Preston tearfully said. "I had a lot of hard days and at the end of the day he’s was the only one I wanted to talk to.”

While sitting close to her in a Zoom call a few mornings after their engagement, Stidham said, "I don't care if we live in a car. I don't care if we live in a house. I do know that I don't want to walk through any part of life without her."

The two plan to enjoy a few days together, before Preston heads back to work, closer to home, in cardiovascular ICU at Northeast Georgia Medical in Gainesville.

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