In a Greek tragedy of sorts, a 36-year-old woman collapsed and died in the arms of her husband in their very first dance of marriage. She apparently died of heart disease.
The only thing Kim Sjostrom wanted more than a real-life reenactment of My Big, Fat Greek Wedding was the Greek-American husband who came with it: Teddy Efkarpides.
AdvertisementBy the time the elementary school teacher of Florida married Efkarpides on Jan. 19, she'd had a Greek-themed bridal shower, gotten a 'Greek by Marriage' T-shirt and practically memorized the movie, which played while friends did her hair and makeup before the ceremony.
'She couldn't wait,' says a sobbing Efkarpides, 43.
But the wedding dance to the rendition of a Greek song turned fatal for Kim Sjostrom. She had been married for less than an hour.
The wedding was a project at Davie Elementary School, where Ms. Sjostrom taught first grade. Fellow teachers provided the wedding gown, the flowers, decorations and one of them, an ordained minister, performed the ceremony.
Kim wore satiny beaded bedroom slippers and a crystal tiara. She carried white flowers and some dyed blue -- the colors of the Greek flag.
At 5 p.m., the ceremony began. Right about at 'I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health,' tears of joy rolled down the face of Teddy Efkarpides, a Navy veteran and a carpenter.
Then the couple headed for the reception, on the patio. A friend announced: 'Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. Teddy Efkarpides!'
'We walk out -- big smiles on our faces -- to where we're going to dance,' Teddy remembers.
The song was the Greek Agapame, which means 'Love me.' It was one of Kim's favorites.
'I used to sing it to her all the time,' he says.
About a minute into the dance, Kim said she felt lightheaded. Teddy figured she needed sugar and suggested they head for a table.
Then, he says, 'she collapsed.'
Someone rushed in with sugar packets from the coffee service. Dominic tried CPR. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency medical procedure for a victim of cardiac arrest or, in some circumstances, respiratory arrest.
CPR is unlikely to restart the heart, but rather its purpose is to maintain a flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and the heart, thereby delaying tissue death and extending the brief window of opportunity for a successful resuscitation without permanent brain damage.
Paramedics arrived in seven minutes, but it was too late.
'A lot of brides pass out on their wedding day, so maybe it was the emotion,' thought Grettel Guerra de Jesus, who also teaches first grade and who coordinated the wedding. 'Then I noticed she was down for a little longer. . . . It was almost like watching Romeo and Juliet.'
Still, at Memorial West Hospital, Teddy saw '15 doctors trying to revive her. Then one doctor says the words I didn't want to hear: 'We did everything we could.''
She had a previous cardiac episode in her 20s and was a poster child - literally - for juvenile diabetes, relatives and friends said. Efkarpides recalled seeing the poster featuring his bride on New York subways.
Friends are mourning Ms. Sjostrom knowing she was probably pleased with her last moments. She had her Greek-themed wedding, complete with Greek husband.
'It was perfect for her,' said Dominic Church, the friend who performed the marriage.
'The only official document that can bear the name she wanted to have is the death certificate,' the mourning husband said.
Every day, Teddy Efkarpides -- a burly, bearded, Brooklyn-born six-footer -- tries again to sort out what happened. Why fate cast him as the romantic lead one minute, a widower at his own wedding the next. Why, after a wrenching divorce, he won a loving heart, only to see it fail them both.
'She was 10 weeks pregnant,' says Efkarpides, a father of three. 'She was upset. She'd been pregnant' in her first marriage, and lost that baby at five months.
Kimberly Sue Sjostrom was born prematurely in the Bronx and spent her first two months in the hospital. After her parents divorced, she moved with her mother to Mississippi.
She earned college degrees from New York's Fordham University, moved to South Florida in 2004 and began teaching at Davie Elementary, lately first grade.
'She loved the little guys,' Efkarpides says. 'It's her character. She's a child in a grown-up's body.'
The two met through an online dating service.
The wedding was three years to the day after their first date -- lunch at a restaurant followed by a long talk at his apartment. He says it lasted eight hours.
The next, he cooked chicken fried rice, and they watched television and talked. By the third date, they were an item, and that summer she moved in.
Their weekend passion: 'Karaoke!' Efkarpides smiles momentarily. 'She was magnificent. . . . She had the voice. We developed a whole portfolio of karaoke discs.'
'I'm the music teacher at the school, and she would come by my room and I'd play Broadway piano for her,' says Dominic Church, a close friend. 'We'd get a crowd of teachers . . . listening to Kim sing.'
Their first Christmas together, Kim gave Teddy her '101 Reasons Why I Love You,' framed.
He reads: 'Number 1. You make me smile. 2: You know where I'm ticklish.'
No. 4 reads, 'You kiss away my tears,' an irony not lost on the weeping man who has no one to return the favor.
'She was my soul mate. She was kind. Caring. She looked past all my flaws to bring out the best in me. . . She always looked me in the eyes, always with a smile, as if she won the lottery.'
'It was perfect for her; for the rest of us, not so much,' Dominic adds.
Teddy has lost 30 pounds. He tries going to work, until grief sends him home, to the company of Kim's ill-tempered cat.
On Jan. 23, many of the wedding guests joined scores of others at Calvary Chapel South in Fort Lauderdale for the funeral.
Kim's ashes were taken to Mississippi, where she grew up.