In life and love, Sue and Brian Elliott are a perfect match. But in blood and tissue, they're plain incompatible. Even so, Brian's willingness to give up a kidney allowed Sue and a stranger a second chance.
Five years ago as Sue Elliott reached the peak of Monument Hill on a brilliant Albury morning she knew after a long journey, her new life had begun.
She could breathe again.
"I just thought 'I did it'," she said.
"And I wasn't breathless...It was amazing."
Mrs Elliott had regained her life and strength, all thanks to the generosity of her husband Brian, and a group of strangers who themselves loved someone with kidney disease.
Looking at the fit 60-year-old walking comfortably hand-in-hand with her husband, you would never know for close to 15 years her kidneys had been deteriorating.
Slowly at first and then swiftly.
Mrs Elliott spent years nauseous and exhausted with a gross taste in her mouth.
"It was a slow decline initially, but then it just started dropping," she said.
"Sometimes I was just so tired I couldn't do it. In the mornings I could talk to myself and say 'right you're getting out of bed, let's go for a walk, you're okay', and I'd give myself a lecture and go. But by lunchtime I was on the couch, tired."
Mrs Elliott was first diagnosed with renal disease when she was 40 years old after going to the doctor after waking up sweaty in the night.
Although kidney disease had taken the life of her father as well as two aunts and an uncle, she didn't think her night sweats were anything serious..."it was the last thing on my mind."
Knowing Mrs Elliott's family history her doctor ran tests. She had Reflux Nephropathy, a disease that snakes through her family tree.
"When I was diagnosed I was terrified because I thought, I don't know anyone who has survived a kidney transplant," she said.
In 1991 her father, who was on peritoneal dialysis, received the long-awaited call in the night to say a kidney transplant was ready.
But six weeks after the operation he died.
He was just 55.
After she was diagnosed Mrs Elliott's brother and sister both went in for testing and found they too had Reflux Nephropathy.
Knowing his wife would one day need a kidney or face life on dialysis, Mrs Elliott's husband, Brian, offered to donate a kidney but tests showed he wasn't a match.
Years later Mrs Elliott's specialist told them the Melbourne-based Organ Transplant team were coming to Albury to discuss the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange Program.
Mrs Elliott was initially sceptical of the scheme, which brings together pairs of people where one person is in need of a transplant and the other willing but unable to donate due to incompatible blood or tissue type.
From there a computer finds suitable matches for each person in the pair, so two or more simultaneous transplants can occur to provide kidneys to those in need.
Mrs Elliott wasn't sure she wanted Brian to go through the surgery.
And having seen her father die not long after his transplant she was knew of what could go wrong - for herself and Brian.
"55 was age when my dad had his transplant and it was also the time I needed to have one," she said.
"I was pretty terrified.
"It was very confronting and I felt really quite frightened.
After meeting with the transplant team, Mr and Mrs Elliott were convinced.
"We both felt so comfortable with the team.. we took the paper's home and almost signed them right away," she said.
"When I was having my transplant my son had announced he and his wife were having a baby so that gave me enormous hope in the future."
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The pair went through additional tests to ensure they were both healthy enough to go through with the transplants and prepared for a significant wait.
But before they knew it a match had been found.
After one false start, everything was set for July 16, 2015.
Donors and recipients never know how many pairs are involved in a transfer, but Mrs Elliott suspects her transplant involved a single other couple.
"It happened very quickly, often with bigger groups it takes longer to organise," she said.
"Donors all go into theatre at same time then [the surgeons] all connect and say 'ready to go'. The donors have kidneys removed and depending where coming from the recipients have the surgery straight after or later that day."
After weeks of fret over her and Brian's surgeries, Mrs Elliott felt just one thing after it was all done.
"Awake, I felt awake," she said.
"My brain had lost a fogginess about it.
"Physically I felt amazing.
"I had a speciality nurse all day [on the day of the surgery]. The next day she wasn't on but she came in just to visit me.
"She said she always loves to come and see kidney transplant patients because the difference in them the day after surgery is incredible... compared to what they looked like the day before surgery.
"It's such a quick response. I was up and walking to my husband's room before he was."
Five years on, Mrs Elliott still becomes overwhelmed with emotion when she talks about the generosity of her donor and her beloved husband of 21 years.
Without them, she doesn't know where she'd be.
"I'd like to think I'd still be alive," she said.
"I hope I would still have been here.
"Perhaps [I'd be] on dialysis - which I know from people in our transplant support group is not a great thing to be going through - and waiting for a deceased donor.
"It would be a waiting game and I know what my father went through waiting..."
These days Mrs Elliott is grateful she and Brian are both well and able to travel and hike together, even if COVID-19 put a dampener on their annual Mount Coolum climb.
"Words really can't describe my gratitude [to Brian]," she said. "I was nervous, anxious for him. There was an amazing relief when we both came out the other side feeling well and fit again. I'm just so grateful to Brian for this amazing gift and to my donor.
"Most of the time in my headspace it's Brian's [kidney I have]. It's Brian, because without him this would never have happened, but without the other donor it wouldn't have happened either."
Mrs Elliott said the paired donor scheme was an amazing program which allowed preemptive transplants and helped people avoid dialysis.
"I feel completely blessed and grateful," she said.
Mrs Elliott said this Donate Life Week she wanted to raise awareness of the partner program, but also of organ donation more widely.
She said discussing organ donation was one of the most important conversations a family could have.
"It doesn't matter how old or how young people are in your family, sit around and openly talk about it so you know your families wishes," she said.
For more information or to register as a donor visit https://donatelife.gov.au/.