Madison Annibale in hospital waiting for her heart transplant.
Madison Annibale in hospital waiting for her heart transplant.

How near death experience led to true love

MADISON Annibale has found love and is working in her dream job testing video games - all thanks to a priceless gift a decade ago.

Madison, now 27, had been taking a gap year after graduating from Cairns State High School when she fell desperately ill and had to be flown to Brisbane. Soon after she arrived, doctors at The Prince Charles Hospital had to operate to connect her to an artificial heart.

"She was very sick, on death's door," her cardiologist George Javorsky recalled.

Madison Annibale in hospital waiting for her heart transplant.
Madison Annibale in hospital waiting for her heart transplant.

For almost two months, Madison pulled her artificial heart around with her like a shopping trolley and then she "got the call" that changed her life. In mid-2008, she received a donor heart.

Madison with her artificial heart.
Madison with her artificial heart.

"Because of my donor, I got to go to university and to meet my partner John Larney and fall in love for the first time," she said. "I've been able to travel. If it wasn't for my donor heart, I wouldn't have even been able to reach my 18th birthday. I will forever be grateful. I'm pretty much living my best life right now.

"Every day I'm living for two people and trying to have double the fun because I've got someone else with me who shouldn't get to miss out on things they could have been doing."

The year after her transplant, she started a business degree at James Cook University in Cairns and then switched to a Bachelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment at QUT in Brisbane.

After graduating from university in 2015, she landed a prized job at Brisbane's HalfBrick Studios.

"Right now, my main role is quality assurance. In a nutshell, I spend all day playing games and telling people what issues there might be or what improvements could be made based on design or bugs," Madison said. "I'm involved in just making sure the overall experience of the game is a good one, that it's fun to play.

 

Madison Annibale, 27, now works for HalfBrick Studios. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Madison Annibale, 27, now works for HalfBrick Studios. Picture: Jamie Hanson

"When people find out what I do, a lot of them are just like 'That's the dream', and I'm like 'It's fun but it's still a job so you still have the stress and deadlines'. But I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now. I'm very thankful."

Her hope is to be able to one day develop games that children having a transplant could play to educate them about the procedure and follow-up treatment.

Madison with partner John Larney.
Madison with partner John Larney.

"My ultimate goal is to find a way to make something fun, but also helpful," Madison said. "We've had parents writing to us to let us know their kids with certain disabilities absolutely love our games because it's one of the few things they can do themselves with limited movement. We get really excited when we hear that."

Madison is one of more than 400 people who have had heart transplants at The Prince Charles Hospital since the first in June 1990 to Toowoomba man Lynn Walker, who is still alive.

Dr Javorsky said Madison had developed viral cardiomyopathy, meaning her heart muscle had been weakened after being attacked by a virus.

"Madison has always been a very dynamic girl. She inspires what we want in transplant patients, which is to get on with their lives and do things with passion," he said.

To join the organ donor register: donatelife.org.au