It wasn't a storybook romance. For one thing, it took a while. Then he proposed in a gown. She rode a donkey in hers.
By AMY SCHERZER
Published June 11, 2004
HARBOUR ISLAND - Before Ardeis Scott met Misti McKinney, he had reeled in a 1,000-pound Black Marlin in Australia's Great Barrier Reef and climbed pyramids in Cairo. He danced at Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro and ate octopus in Indonesia.
Closer to home, the emergency room doctor at Mease Countryside Hospital went sky diving over Mobile, Ala., and raced his '89 Ferrari in Sebring.
During it all, McKinney was probably at home in Palm Harbor. The ultrasound technician at Mease never missed NBC's Thursday night lineup: Friends, ER and Will & Grace. Most days, she went to gym or met friends at the mall. Once, she traveled to upstate New York to visit her brother.
Jerry Niedzwiecki, a radiologist at Mease, fixed them up on their first date, in March 2000. It was a miss, said Scott, now 39.
"She had never eaten Thai food, and I'd been to Thailand," he said.
A few months later, he took a chance and invited her to the Food & Wine magazine festival in Boca Raton.
"Our second date was an entire weekend of new things," said McKinney, 29. "I don't even know how many courses they served."
McKinney was overwhelmed.
"I had lived such a sheltered life," she said.
But her toes didn't tingle.
* * *
Scott was happy "just being friends" until a year later, when three events changed his life.
While skiing in Keystone, Colo., he missed Misti more than he imagined he would. What he thought was altitude sickness was actually his heart aching.
A few weeks later, Scott reconnected with his father, Kenneth Green. The two had had no contact since his parents divorced when he was 6 months old. A stepfather had adopted him and a second stepfather had helped raised him.
Green, branch manager of a national brokerage firm in San Jose, Calif., flew to Tampa to reunite with his son. At the airport, McKinney saw the instant connection and a striking resemblance.
"It is startling how similar they are," she said. "Gestures, opinions, values."
The third event came not long after the happy meeting. Scott fell ill. His throat ached, night sweats kept him awake. A CAT scan showed a possible mass in his neck. Two hours later, a biopsy indicated lymphoma.
Scott and McKinney spent Memorial Day weekend 2001 worrying and waiting for further studies.
"It turned out to be just a sore throat," Scott said, still relieved three years later. "It was a good experience for a physician to go through."
Despite Scott's life-altering experiences, McKinney chose to move on.
"We never seemed to be on the same page," she said. "Same book, different chapter. It was time for me to explore who I was."
A new job sent her flying coast to coast training doctors and operating room staffers in a new varicose vein treatment.
"The week after 9/11, I took my first train ride, my first taxi alone, got my first rental car," she said.
She was the traveler now. Scott was at home on Harbour Island.
"I had been pushing her to be more aggressive and now I'm moping, trying to get over her," he said.
One night in December, in a Jacksonville hotel room, McKinney logged onto her laptop, her first computer. Checking her e-mail, she got her first instant message.
"CAN I CALL YOU?" it said.
Her toes began to tingle.
* * *
Niedzwiecki, the radiologist who introduced them, was in on the engagement. He booked McKinney to assist with a varicose vein procedure on Feb. 14, 2003. She gladly agreed. That way she would be sure to see Scott on Valentine's Day.
She called Scott to tell him the good news, but he said he was working nights that week and wouldn't have time to see her.
Entering the operating room that day, she bent down to speak to the patient, as she always does.
The person in the gown on the gurney was a familiar one.
"Ardeis? What are you doing here?" she shrieked.
Then Scott got down on one knee and proposed.
The two married on Santorini Island in Greece on May 11. Shelly Bugman was the maid of honor; Jerry Stephan was best man.
In tux and wedding gown, they climbed on donkeys and rode through town.
"I never dreamt I'd be riding a donkey on my wedding day," said the bride.
Friends and family, including the groom's parents, who had not seen each other in 38 years, celebrated with the couple May 22 at the Tampa Club. Tables were named for places they had visited and the place cards were postcards they had accumulated on trips. A video showed some of their travels, including the wedding in Greece.
Misti looks forward to future passport stamps.
"Now she's the one who makes all the travel arrangements," Scott said.