During the plebiscite campaign last year, as many couples anxiously watched the polls, Kasey and Vanessa Brown were obsessed with another statistic: Kasey’s lung function. Kasey (pictured above, right) has cystic fibrosis, and her lung function was hovering around 23 per cent. At one point it dipped to as low as 18 per cent. She needed a new pair of lungs, and if she didn’t get a transplant soon she would almost certainly die.
They got married in Australia in 2014, after six years together. Although it was a very traditional wedding (Vanessa in a suit, Kasey in a white dress, they stayed separately the night before), legally it could only be a commitment ceremony. The name didn’t matter to them, but in matters of life and death, the M-word has important legal implications. They got legally married in February 2018.
“We didn't know what was happening with Kasey and the transplant, and we really wanted that extra bit of security,” says Vanessa. “Our wedding was our wedding.... When we did [the legal paperwork] it was only the two of us and our original celebrant.”
That paperwork mattered enormously three months later, when Kasey got a life-saving transplant in May 2018. Their families are both very supportive of their relationship (Vanessa’s sister broke up with a boyfriend on the spot because he was planning to vote no in the plebiscite), but their legal paperwork gave them security when Kasey was in hospital.
“Say my family were against Ness and me being married, they could have stopped her from having any say, they could have stopped her from coming in [to the hospital], they could have stopped anything,” says Kasey.
“We were lucky that we didn’t have any arsehole doctors, they would always let me be in the room,” says Vanessa. “But the transplant team were a whole different team, they could say, ‘you’ve got no legal right to be here.’.” But they didn’t have to test that.
“The security of the ICU door was so full on,” Vanessa says. “Kasey was in ICU for three days. Now that I’ve got the official title, they said, ‘who are you?’ and I said, ‘her wife’, and it was straight in, no arguments.”
The transplant itself wasn’t the only time Kasey’s life was in danger. “I’ve had procedures where they say to me, ‘look, you might not wake up from this’,” says Kasey. “So that was another scary part.” Being legally married would have given Vanessa spousal rights, had the worst happened.
Kasey took her first breath into her new lungs less than 12 hours after the start of her transplant surgery. Her lung function in that first breath was 80 per cent – even as a child she had never had anything better than 60 per cent. These days her lungs are functioning at 90 per cent, and the couple are preparing for their second honeymoon. Kasey has never been allowed to travel overseas, but they are now planning on a trip to Mexico or the States when she’s given the all-clear in another six months.
“My life’s just been medical things for so long,” says Kasey. “Now it’s time to just enjoy.”
There was a time when Kasey didn’t want to go on the transplant list. “Friends passed away waiting, friends passed away after transplant. I looked at it and said that’s just too much.” She smiles at Vanessa. “And then you know when you meet someone, you’re like, well, I've got to be around a bit longer.”