A father’s love knows no bounds, and Costa Ioannou wanted his daughter to know that he would climb mountains for her.
So he did.
After nine days of hiking, Ioannou reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. He set out on the journey in memory of his 9-year-old daughter, Joanna, who passed away in her sleep from sudden unexpected death in epilepsy in 2018.
The January journey was physically and emotionally difficult, but the Whitestone father was determined to reach the top, where he knew Joanna would be looking down from the spirit world.
“Nothing was going to make me stop. I was going to do it,” Ioannou said. “I climbed a mountain to show my kids I would do anything for them.”
Located in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest single free-standing mountain in the world at 19,341 feet above sea level. When he reached the top, Ioannou broke down in tears.
Though the Journey for Joanna was an opportunity for Ioannou to prove his everlasting love her his daughter, it was also intended to raise awareness of SUDEP. Joanna suffered seizures during her earliest years, but went without them for about six years before her epilepsy returned and took her life.
There is no cure for SUDEP. Rather than asking for flowers following Joanna’s death, the Ioannous established the Joanna Sophia Foundation and collected donations. Proceeds are forwarded to the Cameron Boyce Foundation, named for the young Hollywood actor who succumbed to the illness in 2019, and distributed to families struggling to pay hefty hospital bills.
Ioannou’s trip raised $20,000.
Joanna left behind her father, mother Maria Teresa and three siblings: Isabella, Andriana and Raphael. Ioannou described how important it was that they smile when they think of their late sister rather than stew in their sadness.
“When I lost my daughter it overshadowed everything. I was a wreck for months, but I have three kids looking at me as the foundation of the family ... In Greek and Italian culture, we wear black when someone passes, but we didn’t want that to define my daughter’s life so we did the opposite. We turned it into something positive,” Ioannou said of the foundation, which organizes 5Ks and other fundraising events for epilepsy research.
“[Her siblings] grew up overnight and lost their innocence. We wanted to teach them to enjoy their life in the physical world before they enter the spiritual world,” he continued, stating his strong belief the family will reunite in the afterlife.
Ioannou had originally planned to climb the mountain on his own so that he could disconnect with hectic city life and truly reckon with his loss. His close friend, George Isaakidis, ended up joining him for the journey, along with four other strangers from other parts of the world. The group grew close during their excursion, and Ioannou said he was able to celebrate both his own and his daughter’s lives.
“Be positive. Don’t sit down and miss life, the excitement. We’re all going to go sometime,” Ioannou said, adding that his daughter lives on through her family and her foundation.