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Father of two girls is a husband at long last

Bryan Douglas Dillow propped himself up in his nursing home bed and raised a frail hand to toast his bride. "To your health," he said.

It was a wish too late for himself.

Dillow, 40, learned six months ago he had AIDS. He knew he didn't have much time left, yet he wanted to realize his dying dream: to marry his love, the mother of his two young daughters.

So the nurses and other staff at Integrated Health Services nursing home, where Dillow lived, got busy. They collected $88.50 for a marriage license and went about with the wedding plans.

The big day was Wednesday.

Dillow's bride, Debby, stood by his bed with flowers in one hand and his hand in the other. "I do," she said with a smile and tearful eyes.

The couple's 17-month-old daughter, Danielle, sat on the edge of the bed, toying with a pink bow in her blond hair. Her sister Savanah, 18 days old, lay near her father's arm. She has his dimples.

"Now Danielle and Savanah can have a father," Dillow said as he tasted the wedding cake, feeding some to his bride.

Neither child nor their mother has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus. Debby Dillow, 36, has been tested eight times.

Bryan Dillow didn't know for sure how he contracted the AIDS virus, although he said he used intravenous drugs in the past and was sexually active before meeting his wife.

The couple met in Atlanta, where they both lived. She was eating at a PoFolks restaurant, and he waited on her table.

"Since we met I have wanted to be Mrs. Dillow," said Debby Dillow, who was rebounding from a divorce. "I love him so much."

They moved to St. Petersburg in 1990 to make a fresh start together. He got a job at a Po Folks, and she worked at a Captain's Pizza in Clearwater. They lived in a one-bedroom house without much money, but they were happy. "Lucy, I am home!" he often teased when he returned from work.

Last summer, they bought two rings but decided to save more money before getting married.

Then Dillow was hospitalized in December after a cold he caught wouldn't go away. At that time, his doctor told him he had AIDS.

The first thing the couple thought of was Danielle. Was she positive? Was Debby, four months pregnant, positive too?

He asked her to leave so he wouldn't be a burden to her. She insisted on making sure he was taken care of. He moved into the HIV wing of the nursing home, where the thought of getting married sustained him.

A close call came last Tuesday.

"I think I am going to die tonight," Dillow confided in his fiancee.

"You are going to be all right," she told him. "We are getting married tomorrow, remember."

Debby Dillow credits the nursing home staff with making the couple's dream possible, and with a lot more.

"They have been here for me when I call crying in the middle of the night," Debby Dillow said. "If there is one thing I have learned through this is that there are a lot of good people out there."

Donna Foxworth, director of activities at the nursing home at 811 Jackson St. N, said the staff was happy to help. "I feel good inside to make them happy," Foxworth said. "We are starting a fund for the kids."

Now more than ever, they'll need it.

Less than a week after her wedding day, Debby Dillow became a widow. Her husband died at 3 a.m. Monday.