VIDEO: Lung recipient meets her organ donor family
IN MAY 2011, Anita Johnston was just days from death.
The Gracemere mother's lungs were failing and she was in desperate need of a transplant.
At the same time in outback Queensland, a free spirit from Victoria by the name of Gypsy passed away after suffering a head injury.
Gypsy was an organ donor.
The closest major hospital to Gypsy was in Rockhampton and at 3am on May 14, surgeons harvested five of her organs to be donated.
Anita was one of the five lucky recipients.
"I was in Brisbane at the time because we had to be down there to be on the donor list. I only had weeks to live and we were to go back to hospital the following week and I would've been taken off the list because I was too weak," Anita said.
"On Friday the 13th I got the phone call and my lungs were inserted on the 14th in the morning after they were harvested here in Rocky and flown to Brisbane."
After enduring a 9½-hour operation followed by several heart attacks and six days in an induced coma, Anita woke with one wish - to meet her organ donor family.
But organisation DonateLife at the Princess Alexandra Hospital strictly forbid it.
Anita said her only way of contacting her donor family was through letters, which were intercepted by DonateLife.
"It is their policy to keep the identity of the organ donors secret," Anita said.
"When you receive an organ donation, you're supposed to write a letter within 12 months to say thankyou to the donor family.
"I tried so many times to write that letter but I didn't know how. How do you say thankyou to somebody who's just lost a loved one? It's very difficult to do."
Luckily for Anita, Bernadette Rogers, the sister of Gypsy, her organ donor, contacted her first.
"I got my first letter from Bernadette about three months after the surgery and from there we kept in touch," Anita said.
Last year Anita was given the heartbreaking news her body was rejecting the donor lungs.
With time running out, Anita contacted The Morning Bulletin with hopes of fulfilling her wish of meeting Bernadette (though they were in letter contact, they didn't know each other's identity at this stage).
"Bernadette and I have wanted to meet from day one and the hospital has said no, no, no," she said.
"My last letter to Bernadette was that we weren't going to give up and were trying social media," Anita said.
"My daughter Trudi set up the Facebook page Anita's Wish, Gypsy's Gift to try and find Bernadette."
With knowledge a Facebook page with about 1000 likes was set up to try to find her, Bernadette said she began to search through social media.
"I was told there was a site with about 1000 likes on it so I trawled through the transplant sites looking for it then I found this one and liked it," Bernadette said.
"I'd check it every couple of days and then two weeks ago I woke up on a Sunday morning and there was this message from Trudi.
"I was beside myself. I was shaking, emotional and then within three hours I was talking to Anita."
Anita said finding Bernadette was a moment she would never forget.
"I was just dumbfounded, I couldn't speak. It was beyond anything I ever expected."
Bernadette travelled to Gracemere from Victoria last week to meet Anita and the pair agreed it was like they had been friends forever.
"I don't see it as Anita having Gypsy's lungs. Gypsy's journey is done and this is now Anita's journey," Bernadette said.