Acrista fights on after losing love of her life
FROM pure joy to devastating heartache, Acrista Hamilton has experienced more in her 26 years than most of us do in a lifetime.
Acrista was born with the genetic condition cystic fibrosis and the reality of death shadows her life.
CF is an insidious disease, slowly destroying the lungs of its victims and sentencing them to a short lifespan; many don't live to middle age.
For Acrista, illness is unavoidable.
"Sometimes it (hospital) feels like a second home. I've spent more time there than at home," she said.
"As long as I can remember I've always been sick."
Acrista's mum, Colleen Keogh, and dad, Markus Dittman, tried to make her childhood as normal as possible.
"I wasn't wrapped up in cotton wool, but there was always that feeling that I had to go to hospital," she said.
At 12 though, her illness gifted her the most valuable thing - true love.
Acrista met the boy who would become her rock - and her husband.
The 13-year-old lad and the little girl who loved sport bonded in hospital as each recovered from one of the many lung infections that characterise CF.
"He was quiet and honest and never said a bad word about anyone," Acrista said.
"He was funny - a really dry funny. He didn't say anything loud or obnoxious.
"He was a likeable person."
Over the years their friendship blossomed into love and by the time Acrista was 16, they were dating.
"We planned our hospital admissions together, it was all about understanding," she said.
"There was not a time that I didn't understand what he felt like and vice versa."
The teenagers' burgeoning relationship took a traumatic blow as Brett's health deteriorated so badly that he needed a lung transplant.
"The lung transplant was a real eye-opener for me," Acrista said.
"It was scary having to watch someone go through that and know that's going to be you one day."
Despite the hard times, the young couple set up house and married five years later.
But within 11 months Brett was gone. He was only 21.
"He needed steroids to keep his lungs going but the steroids would put his sugar levels up," Acrista said.
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"There was an infection breeding off his sugar levels and the only way to keep them down was to go off the steroids, which were the only things that were keeping his lungs going."
Those last few months together were the best of their lives.
"There wasn't anything that stopped us from doing things," Acrista said.
"We did anything we wanted to, when we wanted to.
"We travelled a bit, spent a lot of time with family, we did charity work, we loved poker and played it together."
The past six years have barely eased Acrista's grief.
"I miss the understanding, the company," she said. The cloak of loneliness is not one she wears well.
"After he passed away, I surrounded myself with people," she said.
"It's only recently that I've realised I don't have to have people around."