The Homicide Victims’ Support Group (HVSG) holds an annual fundraising ball in Sydney and I’ve been honoured to act as its Master of Ceremonies for the past few years. At last year’s ball I met Oliver Zammit, a man still emotional over the loss of one of his three sons.
Twenty-year-old Doujon had been travelling the world when he was viciously bashed after leaving a nightclub on the Greek island of Mykonos in 2008. The assault made headlines in Australia. After three days on life support, Doujon showed no signs of recovery and his parents made the agonising decision to adhere to Doujon’s wishes – he had pledged to donate all his organs should he ever be in such a catastrophic situation. For the Zammits it was a torturous decision – but a decision they knew Doujon would have wanted. Facing the Greek TV cameras outside hospital, Oliver revealed the organs would be given to Greek recipients. “This is going to tie my family and myself to Greece,” he told journalists.
As in Australia, organ recipients aren’t usually identified in Greece. But a few days later, when the parents and fiancée of the heart recipient asked if they could meet the family of the donor, they came together in an emotionally charged encounter.
Fast forward to September 2009. During our conversation at the HVSG ball, Oliver told me an amazing tale. The man who had received Doujon’s heart, Greek-Australian Kostas Gribilas, was planning to marry his Australian girlfriend, Poppy, and would be flying to Australia for the ceremony. He had contacted Oliver and asked him if he would be his best man. It was an extremely hard invitation for Oliver to accept. He told Kostas he was flattered but didn’t feel he was the right person. Still, if Kostas really wanted Oliver at his side, he would be there.
This was truly a remarkable twist on the story, so I asked Oliver if I could cover this extraordinary wedding for the Nine Network.
I met Poppy in Sydney shortly before the wedding when she, Oliver and I shared a coffee at a Leichhardt café. However, I didn’t get the chance to meet Kostas until I saw him at Hurlstone Park’s St Stephanos Greek Orthodox Church on the day of the wedding.
Seeing Oliver standing alongside Kostas was something I’ll never forget. Our cameramen were given permission to be inside the church for the ceremony, and when I saw Poppy walking down the aisle with her father, like just about everyone else in the church I found my tears were close.
While this was a news story, it was hard not to get engulfed in the whirlpool of emotions. Father Nicholas Bozikis summed it up beautifully: “A guardian angel is with us today.”
After the ceremony I briefly spoke to Oliver, Kostas and Poppy. “I am blessed from God that there are people on this earth like the Zammit family,” Kostas told me.
For Oliver, though, there was still grief mixed with the goodwill. While he was proud to be the best man, he couldn’t escape the fact that he wouldn’t have been there but for the fact that his son had been murdered.
“He’s [Kosta] here because of my son’s unselfishness,” he told me.