A Winnipeg bride who went to Greece for her dream wedding and honeymoon says it has become a nightmare after her husband fell ill, had two major surgeries and now battles pneumonia in an Athens hospital.
Stephanie Sarlakis, 28, and Nikolaos Sarlakis, 33, left Winnipeg on May 11 for a small wedding reception with Nikolaos’s family in Salomina, Greece. The two were married in Winnipeg in January, but wanted to celebrate with family and later tour the Greek islands on their honeymoon. Their plan was to return home to Winnipeg on June 9, but now, they don’t know when they’ll return, and they’re left with thousands in extra costs.
“I’ve been calling it my honeymoon nightmare,” said Stephanie Sarlakis. “This is a trip that we’ve been looking forward to and planning for a year. It was our dream honeymoon.
“It’s been awful. Never in a million years would I ever have imagined going through something like this. And being alone in it.”
The first week was full of family, laughter and celebration on the island of Salomina, just off the coast of Athens. Her husband was in great health, she said.
“He was excited to show me his home and show me his country and for me to meet all of his family,” she said.
“It just very quickly turned into the opposite of that. It turned into him fighting for his life.”
On May 21, they took a ferry from the mainland to the Greek island of Santorini. Nikolaos began to complain of feeling unwell.
“We kind of just chalked it up to the boat was making him sick,” said Stephanie. They tried to go to dinner, but her husband had a fever, chills and worsening pain in his abdomen.
“You could tell that he was really weak, he was almost falling asleep at the table,” she said.
Early the next morning, she took him to the Santorini General Hospital in a taxi, as there were no ambulances running at the time. After some tests, doctors suspected he had appendicitis.
The small hospital had only been open for 10 months, with surgeons onsite since March, said Sarlakis. But the surgeons told them if they were to transport her husband to a bigger hospital in Athens, he might die of infection in transit.
So they chose to operate.
They found Nikolaos’s intestine had ruptured as a result of diverticulitis, which causes pouches to form on the walls of the colon.
Surgeons removed the blockage in his intestine that caused the rupture.
On May 27, he was released from hospital with instructions to recover for a few days before returning for a checkup.
They were going to head back to Salomina on May 29, but his condition worsened again.
“He was standing in the bathroom screaming, in agonizing pain, calling for help, and saying he’s having a second attack and he needs to get to the hospital,” said Stephanie Sarlakis.
“It was terrifying. The doctors thought that he was out of the woods.”
Told to speak with a priest
This time, before they operated, doctors advised Nikolaos to speak with a priest. Because of the severity of his infection, they weren’t sure he would make it through the surgery.
Doctors found a second rupture in his intestine, and that gangrene had started to develop as a result of the infection. They removed the gangrenous section and gave him an ostomy bag to allow the resection to heal and for the infection to clear.
“The second time the surgeon, when he came into our room to talk to us, he was apologizing to me, he said they didn’t think that this would happen and he was so sorry. And when a surgeon is apologizing to you, you don’t really know what to think. There’s a million things going through my mind,” she said.
“All of that was terrifying and trying to hold it together because my husband is scared and I don’t want him seeing me be weak because I’m trying to be the strong one.”
Nikolaos was airlifted out of Santorini on June 1 to a hospital in Athens. He was admitted to the Athens Naval Hospital with a fever as a result of developing pneumonia.
Now, as he recovers from the two bowel surgeries, he is battling the lung infection and is having trouble clearing fluids from his lungs. He’s stable, but requires high levels of oxygen and care. Doctors expect his hospital stay to last several more weeks.
The couple had traveller’s insurance through Blue Cross, but the benefits don’t cover accommodations until after the expected end of their trip.
Since Nikolaos is a dual citizen with Canada and Greece, his medical care bills are expected to be taken care of by the Greek government.
But his wife says that since her husband became ill, they have had about $10,000 in extra expenses, including hotel stays, meals, medical expenses and medications, her ferry trips in to Athens to visit him and a non-refundable trip to Crete.