It was to be one of the happiest days of Amy Slenk's young life: She married her college sweetheart during a wedding at a California vineyard.
Instead Slenk, a 26-year-old western Michigan native, collapsed and died from a brain aneurysm during her wedding reception May 25, after she married her longtime boyfriend, Cole Handley, whom she met in college in Oregon.
"I know they were very excited about starting their lives together and starting a family," Diane Slenk told the Holland Sentinel on Wednesday. "They were planning on doing so many things together."
The family declined further media interviews.
Diane Slenk, of Holland Township, said her daughter was enjoying "the happiest day of her life" when she collapsed at the reception in the vineyard in Soledad, Calif., about 115 miles southeast of San Francisco.
After Amy Slenk's death, a California neurosurgeon told her family that although the young woman appeared healthy, she had a pre-existing aneurysm and that "it could've erupted at any time," Diane Slenk said.
Local health experts say brain aneurysms can be sudden and deadly in many cases.
Dr. Fernando Diaz, the chief of neurosurgery at Beaumont Hospitals, said there is a 50 percent chance of death when an aneurysm erupts in a person's brain. But, he said, a third of people can survive a brain hemorrhage if they get immediate medical attention.
"The most important thing to know is if you have a sudden, severe headache like nothing you've ever had ... blurring of vision, loss of speech, numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg and loss of conscience, you need to immediately go to an emergency room," Diaz said.
Each year 35,000 people suffer from aneurysms, according to Diaz. He said individuals who have close relatives who have suffered an aneurysm have a greater chance of experiencing one.
He said specialized tests, such as an MRI, can detect an existing problem.
Amy Slenk moved to the West Coast to attend college, where she majored in international studies and Japanese at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. It was there she met Handley during her freshman year.
"They were immediate friends, and they stayed friends for a couple years before they realized it was love," said Diane Slenk. "Cole was always so willing to take part in any of the crazy plans she had."
After graduating, Slenk moved to San Diego before settling in Soledad, Calif., where she ran a wine-tasting room. The groom works for a golf course.
A funeral for Slenk has been held in California. Her family is planning a private service in the Holland area where she was raised.
"She loved Michigan," she said. "She always loved being near the water."
Slenk's friends expressed their sadness over her death in emotional messages on her Facebook page.
"Amy was a wonderful, adventurous and vibrant person who touched the lives of many people. She will forever be in our hearts and memories," wrote one friend.