COVID-19 doctors Turn to Ted for help with wedding refund

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Kartik Valluri worries about his fiancé, Rika Koka, every time she goes to work an overnight shift at Houston's Medical Center.

Although the couple, both doctors treating COVID-19 and other critically ill patients during the pandemic, try to unwind when they get home, it's been impossible to relax during the last couple of weeks leading up to their multi-day Indian wedding.

Once her bachelorette party was canceled, and her dresses couldn't ship to the U.S. from India, Koka realized her special day probably wouldn't go as planned.

"I think I was in denial for the longest," she said.

Kartik Valluri proposes to Rika Koka in New York City. (Courtesy photo)


Valluri joked he didn't want to say anything about canceling their special day, but eventually the two doctors realized it just wouldn't be safe.

They had about 400 out-of-town guests, many of them flying from overseas and several who are also doctors on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis and serious about social distancing.

But, when they tried to cancel their May 2 wedding, the venue Hotel ZaZa wouldn't budge.

"I was getting to the point where I was like panicking and I was literally having dreams about it," Koka told ABC13's Ted Oberg.

After waking up from one of those dreams, the bride-to-be sent a long, 1,000-plus word email to the Turn To Ted team.

The hotel offered to postpone the wedding until Thanksgiving weekend, but that date was exactly one year after Valluri's grandmother died. Religious rituals meant it wasn't an option so the couple tried to cancel, but soon learned it would be expensive.

Koka said the couple would have to default on three different contracts, one for the venue, another for a hotel block for hundreds of out-of-town guests and a third for food and beverage.

"The total is $111,000 and some change is what they said that we would have to pay to cancel," Koka said.

The couple said pleading with the hotel, and involving their lawyer didn't work. And as the wedding day drew closer, the stress of trying to cancel was always on their mind.

"This is a very emotional moment for us. This is a life event and there's a lot of planning involved. You know, the hopes and dreams, especially a girl planning her wedding," Valluri said.

Between treating COVID-19 patients, conducting research and working night shifts, the couple's stress and anxiety continued to grow at the thought of having to pay off that debt over the next several years.

With just two weeks to spare, our Turn to Ted team called the hotel to ask about their event.

"Within hours, the president of Hotel ZaZa called our lawyer saying they would refund all of our deposits," Koka said.

That same day, Hotel ZaZa told ABC13 it planned to contact other couples with events in the first part of May to also cancel their weddings on a case-by-case basis.

The hotel said the reason Koka and Valluri's wedding wasn't canceled sooner is because the venue was continuously assessing the various coronavirus-related orders issued by the federal, state and local government as to when the restrictions would be lifted, which would ultimately provide guidance to its decision.

The couple started planning their wedding in November and looked for venues that were unique and large enough to accommodate 400 guests.

"I really wanted a place that had a little charm, wasn't kind of cookie cutter," Koka said. "I really liked how Hotel ZaZa's ballroom was kind of circular and made it kind of intimate and it was just really cute and had a lot of personality. I think that's what drew me in."

Instead of spending this week entertaining guests leading up to several days of wedding festivities, the couple continues to work on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, pouring their focus into their patients - now without the added stress of their wedding on the back of their mind

"It's nice to be able to breathe easy and then we'll kind of start looking at other dates," Koka said. "We definitely want it to be safe because it is going to still be a very large event."

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