Not every couple can say they met one another before they could even talk. Then again, Kaila and Matt Maartensz are not every couple.
The Perth locals were “practically babies” when they encountered one another for the first time at a children’s hospital in Perth. Matt and Kaila were both diagnosed with cystic fibrosis - a life-threatening genetic condition affecting organs including the lungs - and they often found themselves in the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children together growing up. While this may sound like the plotline for a Hollywood film, Kaila admits it wasn’t exactly love at first sight - not for her, at least. “To be honest, I thought he was quite annoying at that stage,” she tells. “He did write me a love letter when I was about 15, so he would have been about 13, which I still have to this day. I thought that was pretty cute.” Now, several years later, Matt and Kaila are happily married, still living in Perth, and facing their toughest fight yet. Although lung transplants have given each of them a new lease on life over the past few years, Matt’s health took a serious and sudden turn in December 2017.
Kaila received a phone call from her husband one Tuesday: “I can’t breathe. I’m going to hospital.”
A bronchoscopy revealed Matt’s lungs were extremely inflamed, but doctors couldn’t determine why or how that was. They still don’t have an explanation. The 29-year-old spent two weeks in intensive care, but treatments weren’t improving his condition. Matt was then transferred to the ward and put on the highest possible level of oxygen; he has been there ever since. “It’s hard to comprehend that one day he was working a really busy, labor intensive job and now he can barely walk to the toilet on his own,” Kaila, 32, tells. “We were told that because they didn’t know what was wrong with Matt, and because the treatment they were tying wasn’t working, there was nothing more they could do.” The couple haven’t been given a clear prognosis for Matt; doctors told them in mid-December that he could have just a few weeks or months to live. “Because no one knows exactly what is wrong or why this happened, no one can give us a definitive answer. Except to say he’s not getting better. Ever,” Kaila says.“ Matt has said to me that he is so scared of not knowing and not getting better, and especially of dying, because he has so many things he still wants to do and so much to live for.”
The couple married in 2015, a day Kaila describes as “so special” - and one they knew wouldn’t have been possible without their lung donors and their families. Their lives look very different now. Matt’s days are filled with “nurses, doctors, blood tests, tablets”, while Kaila has recently returned to work and splits the rest of her days between hospital visits and spending time with the couple’s two dogs.
While there is talk of Matt coming home, Kaila says he isn’t “sick enough” to access home help.
“Even attempting to have a shower is like running a marathon for Matt at the moment,” she says.
“So when he comes home I won’t be able to work, and I wouldn’t really want to anyway, because I want to spend as much time with him while I still can.”
Friends and family members have rallied around the couple, and a GoFundMe campaign has raised thousands of dollars to support them.
“To see the generosity on our GoFundMe page, from people we know as well as complete strangers, is overwhelming but we are so unbelievably grateful to all of those people,” Kaila says.
Matt's strength also buoys her spirits and helps her cope with their new reality.
“His strength inspires me every single day," she says.