When Greek Australian chef Spiro Christopoulos met the love of his life Fiona in 2000, neither of them could have imagined the turn their life would have 20 years later. Not only did the couple marry, but Fiona, now his wife, was the one that gifted him a second chance in life by donating one of her kidneys.
“Spiro is my life. To me it was a no-brainer. We have been together for such a long time. He already has my heart, and to watch him suffer while knowing his dire need for a kidney and that the average wait for a transplant is three years, made no sense,” says Fiona, who works as a renal unit nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and is also president of the Renal Society of Australasia.
Fiona met Spiro at a kidney dialysis ball in 1999 and the couple married six years later.
Spiro was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 11.
“Back then, my mother Irene was my carer, and she did everything to ensure I was healthy and happy. I couldn’t have gone through all this without her,” says Spiro whose parents migrated to Australia from the island of Lemnos and mainland Kalamata.
At the age of 30, Spiro suffered kidney failure and went on dialysis.
In 2001, he received his first kidney transplant, followed by a pancreas transplant ten months later.
Both organs were from deceased donors.
Two years ago, his donated kidney began to fail.
“Having worked in the medical field for so many years, it was not hard for me to realise that something was not quite right. Spiro was struggling to get on with life and enjoy a ‘normal’ day. I had always said that if need be, I would give him one of my kidneys, but when Spiro’s brother John stepped in and offered to be a donor, we decided to go with that option as there was a better chance of a kidney match,” Fiona explains.
John went ahead with all the medical testing. Everything was going smoothly up to two weeks before the day when the donation was to go ahead. “The doctors informed us that there were incompatibilities and that they couldn’t go ahead with the surgery because of antibodies and a possible rejection,” Spiro says.
Fiona adamantly wanted give her husband what he desperately needed, so after speaking to the doctors she booked herself in for further testing despite Spiro’s objections. “I was scared. Whether it ended up being my brother, my wife or any other family member, how could I live with myself knowing something went wrong because of me?” he says.
The unique organ exchange defied the odds of incompatible blood types to create a rare, near perfect organ tissue match for the couple.
“It’s funny, because Spiro’s dad used to always say that the Irish came from the Greeks. So, there you go, maybe there is some truth to that after all,” says Fiona jokingly.
But the process wasn’t without its setbacks as the surgery in May was the couple’s third attempt to have it done. The first date for the surgery in January was cancelled after Spiro recorded high blood pressure and, in April, Fiona caught a cold which led to a second postponement.
“It was probably the toughest time in our lives, but looking back, it was all worth it in the end,” says the couple.
It’s been three months since the life-changing transplant, and since then, both Spiro and Fiona have returned to their normal lives.
Spiro is speechless following his wife’s sacrifice.
“What Fiona did for me, it’s beyond words, it’s something I will never forget, and I just can’t thank her enough for her devotion, her love, her generosity and for making my life so much better in every way. I love her very much and I would do anything for her,” he says.
On Sunday, 8 September, the couple will step out in red and join thousands of people at The Big Red Kidney Walk, in order to raise awareness for kidney disease and to support research for those who are living with kidney disease.
The Big Red Kidney Walk is Kidney Health Australia’s largest annual community fundraiser, taking place every year in September across the country.