Barry Carlton and his girlfriend were riding through a Florida backroad on his new motorcycle in 2012 when tragedy struck.
“They were going into a curve, a car was coming out of the curve and the car didn’t see them,” Carlton’s daughter, Shelby Parmenter, tells PEOPLE. “It came over into the other lane and hit them head on. It took my dad’s leg immediately … thought he was dead. He started crying out and they realized, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s alive.’ ”
Along with losing his left leg, Carlton suffered a fractured pelvis along with other injuries, Parmenter says. Parmenter, who was just 21 years old at the time, tells PEOPLE that she was devastated when she got the news, adding that she and her then-teen sister burst into tears.
“We were hysterical. My first thought was of that initial thing, ‘My dad’s dead,” Parmenter, now 26, says. “It was almost like an out-of-body experience … I though that even if he is alive, he’s going to be a vegetable. How am I gonna cope with not having my dad? I felt like a child again. But in that moment I had to grow up and I had to be strong for my sister.”
The family soon learned that Carlton, now 52, had survived the crash, but that his body had been “mangled” in the accident. As the shock of the situation wore off, Parmenter says her mind went to one place: her future wedding.
“My husband and I, we had only been dating for about six months and we weren’t engaged or anything. But all I could think about was my wedding day because that was something my dad and I had always talked about my whole life. We talked about him giving me away and our dance together.”
She continued: “I thought, ‘Who’s gonna walk me down the aisle? Who’s gonna dance with me? Who’s gonna do that?’ ”
Parmenter says the Army vet was released from the hospital a month after the accident and was in recovery from his Starke, Florida, home for the next several months. During that time, Shane and Parmenter had gotten engaged and began planning their wedding.
“He was like, ‘alright! It’s go time! I am gonna work my butt off because I’m walking you down the aisle!’ ” Parmenter recalls. “I said, ‘Dad, I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair. I will sit on your lap and I’ll roll down the aisle. I’m just glad you’re alive!’ ”
Parmenter attended school and worked full-time but was determined to help in her father’s recovery, even moving in to his home to help care for him. Over time, Carlton improved and was able to walk with a crutch by the time Parmenter and Shane wed on July 19, 2014.
“When it came time to dance, he flung to the side and everybody erupted into applause,” Parmenter recalls of the sweet moment. “We danced the entire song. We did get to walk together and we did get to dance together and do these amazing things.”
Photos from the ceremony showed Carlton and Parmenter sharing a sweet dance, with the bride in her wedding gown and Carlton in uniform — “That’s all I ever dreamed of as a girl,” she says.”Just having my dad there.”
Parmenter decided to only recently share the photos and videos from the ceremony on Facebook and Love What Matters, and the story quickly made its way around the Internet, garnering dozens of shares and “likes.”
“He was getting choked up and I was getting choked up ,” she says. “At that point, I reached up on my tippy toes and gave him butterfly kisses in front of everybody. Then I laid my head on his chest and we just swayed. That was all we could do. We just swayed and soaked it all in.”