Smelling the flowers, seeing a smile, hugging a pet, tasting a perfect spice blend, and hearing “I love you” are the small things in life that truly warm our hearts. It’s crucial that we appreciate happiness while it lasts, but we’re all guilty of taking these basic parts of life for granted.

When a man from Louisiana fell ill during a vacation, he expected that it would just take time and medicine to make him well. However, he had no idea that this simple illness was going to strip him of those little joys in life. Luckily, there was someone at his side who refused to let him despair…

In February of 2018, Hayward Duresseau, a 27-year-old man from Lafayette, Louisiana, went on a family trip, ditching Louisiana for California and the ultimate vacation. He was excited to see his cousins in San Francisco and was nothing but optimistic about the trip.

The family did some sightseeing together, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Pier 39, and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. He was having a great time, not worried about a thing.

The next morning, Hayward and his brothers suffered from jet lag, and after waking up before anyone else, they turned on the TV. A breaking news story about a disease outbreak in the area appeared on the screen.

A rare outbreak of meningitis was spreading. It’s not a common disease in the U.S. since there are vaccines for it, but it can be life-threatening. “After seeing this I was like: ‘meningitis, what’s that?'” Hayward recalled. “I’d never heard of it before, but I wasn’t too alarmed at that time.” 

When Hayward returned home to Louisiana, he put the threat of disease out of his mind. He was excited to get back to his partner Kerry Kennedy. The two men had missed each other while Hayward was away on his family vacation. But their happy reunion would be short-lived.

See, Hayward wanted to spend time with Kerry to catch up, but fell ill with headaches, dizziness, nausea, light sensitivity and blurry vision. He thought he must have caught a bad flu.

As Hayward’s condition worsened, he realized he needed medical help. At first he saw his primary care doctor, but the doc had him rushed to the hospital instead. By the time he was admitted, he could hardly walk and pressure was building up in his eyes!

The pressure in his eyes had become dangerous to the point where the doctors had to laser a hole into them to relieve it. Hayward also started losing his hearing and was on the brink of becoming both deaf and blind!

Meanwhile, his boyfriend of over 2 years stood by his side the whole time, providing support while worrying about Hayward’s future. Would the man he loved survive all this? It didn’t help that Hayward could barely communicate. 

It turned out, Hayward didn’t just have some crazy flu. He remembered the news segment he’d seen in San Francisco well. He had bacterial meningitis, which had traveled to his brain and his spinal cord before it began attacking his whole body.

After treatment, Hayward’s sight came back, but his hearing didn’t and his legs needed a lot of recovery time. Nevertheless, he tried to stay positive as he had his loved ones close and was thankful to still be alive.

As soon as a still-deaf Hayward was released from the hospital, he and Kerry began taking lessons in American Sign Language. They weren’t exactly fluent, so they still used notepad and texts to communicate. They did learn some basic signs, like “I love you.”

Life went on again as usual, despite Hayward’s deafness. While he lost one sense, perhaps his other ones were heightened because he dove back into his love for food. He and Kerry enjoyed cooking together and trying all kinds of new dishes.

In fact, his partner Kerry started a company called Basin Blend, which sold new spice blends for those who wanted to try different flavors. He really enjoyed the work, and Hayward was always happy to help.

Hayward was happy to be back on his feet, posting on Facebook: “Most people would look at this like a curse, but I’m taking this as a huge blessing. I forgot to appreciate the small things in life, what make us tick. Something so minute could have taken my life because I wasn’t concerned about it. Well that’s changed.”

And luck, too, was about to change for Hayward. He was told that he could get a cochlear implant, which is an electronic medical device that does the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.

On August 8, 2018, after months of feeling stuck in his own head and being unable to communicate with the world, Hayward received his implant. He heard clicking noises, beeping sounds, his brother talking, and then he heard Kerry’s voice…

“It’s been a long journey to get to this point.” Kerry said. “But I’m glad we were able to do it together, and I want to keep doing everything with you. I want to help each other as much as we can. Will you marry me?”

Of course Hayward said yes! All his emotions of the past few months mixed with happiness and love as he teared up, but continued to laugh. “I’m so happy I can hear you,”  he said.

These two lovebirds can’t wait to officially be a family, their beloved pups included. As of November 2018, after they married, they planned to continue to  learn ASL. “The deaf community rallied behind us and helped us a lot to get through that six-month period” Kerry said. Hayward said he would live the rest of his life “stopping to smell the roses.”