ONE BRAIN BETWEEN US: friendship forged over rare disease
THEY may live on opposite sides of the world but Aaron Payne and Lewis Unwin have an uncanny bond - some may say they complete one another.
The young men have each undergone a hemispherectomy, an operation where one half of the brain is removed or disconnected.
The procedures - performed on opposite sides of their brains - were carried out to treat frequent seizures related to the extremely rare condition known as Rasmussen's encephalitis.
The two young men first connected over the internet in 2010. Mr Payne, from Freestone, and Mr Unwin from Romford, England finally had the chance to meet in the flesh at the weekend and discover the similarities and differences they shared.
With opposite sides of their brains removed, the two men had varied experiences.
"I've lost strength and movement in the left side of my body and I get quite fatigued,” said Lewis, who had his right hemisphere disconnected in 2011.
Mr Payne's speech was affected when he had the left hemisphere of his brain removed at the Westmead Hospital in Sydney in 2012.
He also experiences muscular weakness on his right-hand side.
But despite the differences, the two have enjoyed discovering similarities in how they have adapted since the surgery.
"I've noticed all these little things, like he opens jars and bottles the same way I do,” Mr Unwin said.
Mr Payne's mother Kathy said it was great for the two young men to be able to share some of the tricks of the trade they have developed while learning to live with the use of one hand.
The duo also share a love of sport, and with Mr Unwin working a personal trainer, the two spent some quality bonding time at the WIRAC gym.
But back at home, it was Mr Payne's time to shine when they struck up a game of table tennis. "I played Aaron the other day and he absolutely thrashed me,” Mr Unwin said.
Mr Payne made the Queensland para table tennis team and will be competing in Canberra in May this year.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing theses two men share is their common resilience and determination to make the most of life post-operation.
"It's taken a while but I'm slowly getting there and improving every day,” Mr Payne said.
The Freestone man has also completed a horticulture course since graduating high school in 2016.
"I feel more confident in my work and as a person.”
Mr Unwin agreed, saying rehabilitation was involved in every aspect of his life.
"We're always improving and always achieving new things,” he said.
"There's no way I thought I would be a personal trainer six years ago.”
The two said the operation was risky and had its drawbacks, including losing 50 per cent of their vision, but looking back they wouldn't change a thing.
"At the start it was very depressing, but now I think it makes you a better person,” Mr Unwin said.
"It makes you appreciate life more and understand how important it is,” Mr Payne said.
Most people couldn't imagine going through what the men have been through, and the pair said it was nice to be able to connect with someone with similar experiences and passions.
And despite their time in the gym, getting to know one another hasn't all been hard work.
Mr Paybe has enjoyed showing his mate around and getting up to lots of other mischief like quad biking, doing jobs around the farm, sightseeing and visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.
Mr Unwin and his family are visiting Australia for the first time and have returned the invitation to the Paynes, who hope to visit England in the future.