This couple faced COVID-19, visa issues and cancer. They finally reunited with a secret wedding

·6 min read

First, it was COVID-19.

Then, it was cancer.

And last, it was an expiring visa.

But that wasn't enough to keep a South Dakotan woman and South African man from falling in love and living for the moment, as the two opted for a surprise wedding earlier this month.

Tiaan Treurnicht and Samantha Gacke got married on Sept. 9, more than a year after meeting each other during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The couple, once featured in a USA TODAY Network series about love during this public health crisis, faced a setback when Treurnicht's work visa expired, making him return to South Africa.

It then took longer than expected to renew, and left the couple half a world apart.

Here's an update on the pair from the "Love in the age of COVID-19" story:

Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht with their "matchmaker" Lindsey Tullis (middle) during their wedding reception.
Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht with their "matchmaker" Lindsey Tullis (middle) during their wedding reception.

Meeting during COVID-19

The couple met in mid-2020 when Gacke, from Sioux Falls, made a trip down to Iowa to hangout with her bestfriend Lindsey Tullis. The 32-year-old asked her friend, at the time, to invite some coworkers she'd always talk about, who were from South Africa.

Gacke instantly formed a connection with Tiaan Treurnicht, who was working in Iowa under a work-visa at Central Valley Ag.

After a few months of dating, the two had to separate as Treurnicht went home. During Christmas vacation that year, Gacke managed to visit Treurnicht in his home country of South Africa, after her loved ones crowd-funded part of her flight.

Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht in South Africa visiting in December.
Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht in South Africa visiting in December.

Once back in the states, Gacke had to wait for Treurnicht to renew his work visa, which took longer than usual due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“The United States embassy is slower," Treurnicht told the USA TODAY Network in February. "All the paperwork I should be getting is slow, it’s frustrating.”

On Valentine's Day in 2021, the couple was still separated, but they held out hope they'd be reunited eventually.

"We do kind of joke about that if we've been through all of this, I don't know what else they can throw at us," Gacke said in February. "But I guess bring it on, because we can tackle whatever now."

More: Love in the age of COVID-19: South Dakotans found love in new ways during pandemic

"No matter what, I need him next to me"

Treurnicht finally made it back to Iowa in mid-March.

"We got in a month and a half later than we usually do, and then had to stay in lockdown for two weeks," Treurnicht said.

When Treurnicht and Gacke were reunited in April, a new challenge hit the couple. Gacke found out she had cancer after an eye surgery in late June.

"When I found out that I had cancer, he was already my rock, but I honestly don't know what I would have done without him there," Gacke said.

They grew closer through Gacke's radiation treatments. As of September, the treatments are over, but it's unknown if the cancer is gone.

"I'm not in the clear yet, I won't really know for a couple of months," Gacke said. "I just imagine, what if I would have to go through this again, and no matter what, I need him next to me."

Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht at Badlands National Park.
Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht at Badlands National Park.

14 days until the 'secret' wedding

With Gacke going through her radiation treatments, and with her separation from Treurnicht in the rearview mirror, the relationship continued progressing.

"Before we knew it, we started talking more and more about what's happening next, the two of us in the back of our minds didn't want to go through any of that again," Treurnicht said.

Following in his own customs, Treurnicht went to talk to Gacke's parents before proposing to her. He jokingly said if he hadn't done it that way, his own father would be upset with him.

"I decided I'm going to marry her. Man, I was stressed out," Treurnicht said. "My hands were all sweaty, and I went to talk to her parents."

Both of Gacke's parents gave Treurnicht their blessing, and on Aug. 21, the 27-year-old proposed to Gacke in front of her family.

"I wanted to ask her in front of her family, because I know how much they mean to her," Treurnicht said. "I tried to make it a little bit more special."

Treurnicht and Gacke began planning a wedding, but things changed with a visit to an immigration lawyer.

If the couple wanted to avoid spending an extended amount of time separated, they needed to secure Treurnicht's permanent residency in the U.S.

The wedding was sped up so the couple could apply for Treurnicht's green card.

"I called my dad back home, and told him we're getting married pretty soon – in a week and a half soon," Treurnicht said.

Gacke said she, alongside her sister and mother, planned the wedding in less than 14 days.

"My mom and my sister had already started the Pinterest board, so they were already in planning mode," Gacke said.

The soon-to-be bride didn't even get to pick out her dress, but managed to find the perfect fit courtesy of her mother.

"I didn't say, 'Yes to the dress,' but my mom did," Gacke said. "She picked out one that was on sale, and that was the one I wore."

Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht pose for a photo after getting married on Thursday September 9, 2021.
Tiaan and Samantha Treurnicht pose for a photo after getting married on Thursday September 9, 2021.

During the wedding day, Treurnicht tried to keep his mind focused elsewhere. He even went to work that day. He didn't tell his boss he was getting married until he was asked why he needed to leave early.

"I worked until 4 p.m., and the wedding was at 7:30 p.m.," Treurnicht jokingly said. "I felt guilty to ask for the whole day off."

While Treurnicht got ready in one room, Gacke was in another, waiting to put on her dress.

"It was 6:30 p.m., and I was like, 'Can I just put my dress on and get married already?' I was so excited to marry Tiaan," Gacke said. "The next thing I know, we were being announced as husband and wife, and then we had champagne in our hands."

More: Tens of thousands of New York health care workers could lose jobs as soon as today over vaccine: COVID-19 updates

One last hurdle before 'happily ever after'

After their "secret" wedding, the Treurnichts went on a quick honeymoon. While the couple is happily married, they still have a couple loose ends to tie before they reach "happily ever after."

Tiaan Treurnicht still lives in Iowa, because of his job, and is waiting to complete his permanent residence. Now that the ball is rolling on his green card application, he's can't leave the country until he gets a new visa issued.

Once he gets a new visa, he plans to visit South Africa with his wife for a few weeks.

"It's gonna take about three to five months for me to get a work permit, so I can go back home," he said. "I won't have to apply for anymore visas, and I can finally live with her."

Samantha Treurnicht said although the couple might still have to be apart from each other for a little bit, it'll all be worth it.

"I wouldn't want to do this with anybody else," Samantha Treurnicht said. "It'll just be a little crazy, but at least we're doing it together. We're going to make it work."

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Love in the age of COVID update: Couple weds amid cancer diagnosis

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