Husband's gift of life to love he met on Net

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The Independent Online
WHEN IAN FLEMING, a professional cyclist from Manchester, began bantering on the Internet with Teresa Dravk in Pennsylvania just one year ago he cannot have imagined what lay ahead. Indeed, neither of them had any clue that they would turn out be a perfect match. And we are not just talking romantically.

Theirs has been a transatlantic fairy tale that has taken them in quick order from a cyberspace chatroom to love-at-first-sight and, in September, marriage.

This morning, however, the unlikely compatibility of the pair will be demonstrated in another, even more remarkable, way. In a Philadelphia hospital at 7.30am, Mr Fleming will give his new wife a gift more precious than any other: life.

He is to give her one of his healthy kidneys. Simultaneous surgeries on the pair will be undertaken by Dr Michael Moritz, a transplant specialist, at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Mrs Fleming, who is 36, and has had kidney trouble for 16 years, had her last dialysis on Friday.

Until recently kidney transplants involving live donors who were not blood family were extremely rare. "For unrelated donors and recipients to match is very uncommon," a spokesman for the hospital confirmed yesterday. The hospital has been doing kidney transplants involving unrelated pairs only since 1994.

Commenting on the double miracle of his compatibility with his wife in love and in medical twinning, Mr Fleming, who is 29, said: "It is really in the stars whether you match up or not. Two people are really worlds apart. And if they're getting married, that too is one in billions and billions."

The first contact between the two was in a cyberspace chatroom on America Online dedicated to conversations about between people in Britain and the United States.

Soon they began personal e-mails until last December, when Mr Fleming flew to Philadelphia. At the time, Ms Dravk had just left hospital after heart valve surgery.

"I was hooked from the first moment that I saw her when she appeared out of a crowded airport," Mr Fleming said.

After three weeks visiting the sights and meeting with the Dravk family, Mr Fleming popped the question on New Year's Eve.

Ms Dravk's parents and friends were naturally uncertain about the unusual romance and Mr Fleming's intentions. Those doubts, one assumes, must now be gone. "I thought, this is the one," Mr Fleming said."I just got down on one knee and asked her to marry me."

Mrs Fleming, meanwhile, acknowledges the pain of having to put her new husband through the transplant procedure. "I love him, and I don't want to see him go through the surgery, but I'm torn, because I know the difference it will make".

Her considerable health problems were never a secret. They began in 1981, when she was at Penn State University. Within two years she was suffering from kidney failure and she had her first transplant in 1984. She returned to good health until 1992, when her kidneys began again to deteriorate

"There was nothing hidden from the start," Mr Fleming said. "She told me all the medical problems. We just love the same things, and we just love each other."