'Terrible diagnosis' devastates Kiwi opera star's family

By John Lewis

Anna Leese Guidi and husband Stefano Guidi with baby Matteo. Photo / Facebook
Anna Leese Guidi and husband Stefano Guidi with baby Matteo. Photo / Facebook

Opera star Anna Leese Guidi - a new mother for just over a month - is struggling with the news that her Italian husband Stefano has only two years to live.

The couple were married in Dunedin last year. Six weeks ago, just before the birth of their son Matteo, Mr Guidi was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of motor neuron disease - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).

The disorder causes the death of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and results in muscular atrophy.

Mr Guidi will have difficulty speaking, swallowing and eventually breathing, and he has been given two years to live.

A Givealittle page to support Mrs Leese Guidi and their son has already raised $24,427.

Mrs Leese Guidi said in a Facebook message that she was "extremely appreciative" of the support she had received, and believed it would have a direct impact on making some aspects of their lives "a little easier to bear over the next while".

"Huge love and thanks to you all, and for the many kind messages we have both received, letting us know you are thinking of us.

"It's unfathomable to me that this terrible illness has struck such a good man at such an important time in his life," she wrote.

"Your kindness means a lot to us."

Her father, David Leese, told the Otago Daily Times last night the situation was devastating for the couple. "It's such a tragedy. For them to come out here, all the way from Italy, and form a new life, a new house, a baby and get a fantastic job, it's just unbelievable this should happen.

"He's such a fine guy. I can't believe that this is happening."

He said Mr Guidi was the chief winemaker at Heron's Flight in Matakana. He had reduced his work hours significantly since his diagnosis.

He said his daughter had also stopped working so they could spend more quality time together. Eventually, she would become his carer.

Mr Leese said the couple were on their way back to Italy this week, so Mr Guidi could spend time with his family until the end of July.

Mrs Leese Guidi graduated from the University of Otago in 2003, and by 2006 she had graduated from the Benjamin Britten International Opera School at the Royal College of Music in London and made her debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

In 2007, she won the Queen Elizabeth Rosebowl which was presented by Prince Charles.

Until recently, the soprano has had a busy career performing around the world, but has always made time to perform in Dunedin.

The Givealittle page said Mr Guidi was investigating treatment for the disease and the donations would help support his family while allowing him some freedom to make the most of life while he was still physically able.

A family friend said the news was a terrible shock.

"Stefano and Anna are proud and generous people who have given great pleasure to others through their gifts. And now we've a chance to return the favour when they need us most.

"It's a terrible disease that has no cure, so the best thing we can all do is love and support Stefano and his family, to make the most of their time together just now."

- Otago Daily Times

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