SICK: Rhianna Johnson needs a double lung transplant but has been denied help by Centrelink.
SICK: Rhianna Johnson needs a double lung transplant but has been denied help by Centrelink. Contributed

Out of work but not sick enough for Centrelink

SHORTNESS of breath is a temporary state for most, but not Bundaberg's Rhianna Johnson, who lives each day with less than half lung capacity as she desperately waits for a double lung transplant.

The 24-year-old was born with cystic fibrosis but over the past four weeks her lung capacity has dropped 10 per cent from 45-47 to 37 per cent when she was admitted to hospital in January.

The rapid loss in lung function has forced her out of the workforce and into bed rest on doctor's orders, but according to Centrelink, Miss Johnson is not disabled enough to receive a pension payment.

Rhianna Johnson with her mum and dad.
Rhianna Johnson with her mum and dad. Contributed

Close friend Natalie Zeimer said Miss Johnson's application was denied by Centrelink because she was still able to drive herself to work.

Miss Zeimer said her friend was classified as "living independently” despite Marietta, Rhianna's mum, helping her daughter with daily tasks such as issuing treatments and medications, cooking, and often bathing due to the extreme fatigue these can cause.

"She just applied again last week and this time she attached further medical certificates, but she has no quality of life and feels like she has lost the last bit of independence she has,” Miss Zeimer said.

"Just one of Rhianna's medications costs $6000 a month but luckily she still has a health care card. A number of her friends with CF have had theirs taken off them, so it's worrying.”

Miss Zeimer said the operation was a life or death situation for Rhianna but it was a risk she had to take.

In May, Miss Johnson will visit the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane where she will be assessed for her spot on the waiting list, with doctors worried about the rapid decrease in her health, Miss Zeimer said.

"It's hard for people to understand how ill Rhianna is because on the outside she looks so normal. But when you spend some time with her you notice quickly the effects cystic fibrosis has on her,” she said.

"She just wants her quality of life back and to be able to keep contributing to society like she has done since she was 14. But right now her health is her main priority.”

SICK BED: Rhianna Johnson, with family, needs a double lung transplant and is unable to work.
SICK BED: Rhianna Johnson, with family, needs a double lung transplant and is unable to work. Contributed

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Miss Johnson's mum, Marietta McLellan, to help her daughter through this trying time with a little less stress.

"Once Rhianna receives her transplant we need to relocate to Brisbane for three to six months for her after-care,” Mrs McLellan said.

"If you find it in your heart to donate, please donate to help my daughter get through the next few months, possibly even years, without so much financial burden.”

The Department of Human Services said it was investigating Miss Johnson's case and had made it a priority to "ensure we are doing everything we can to help them through this situation”.

"In situations like these a person must meet specific criteria in order to qualify for Disability Support Pension and a person whose ability to work is affected by a disability or medical condition may be eligible for other payments, such as Sickness Allowance or Newstart Allowance.”

Miss Zeimer said the department had been in contact with Miss Johnson yesterday afternoon after calls from the NewsMail and had escalated her case.

CF is a condition that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system by trapping bacteria, causing ongoing infections and irreversible damage. For Rhianna, CF has caused a number of conditions such as osteopenia, impaired glucose tolerance, anxiety and depression, and distal intestine obstruction disorder, to name a few.

Rhianna Johnson (fourth form left) with her family.
Rhianna Johnson (fourth form left) with her family. Contributed

Due to the high risk of cross-infection, people with CF are not encouraged to socialise with each other, making an isolated existence for sufferers.

To make a donation visit

Alternatively, the Wedding Spectacular in Bundaberg will be holding a raffle for Miss Johnson this Sunday at the Civic Centre with prizes that have been donated by the community on offer.

For further information from the department about the support payments, go to

DSP eligibility

  • It is important to note that Disability Support Pension (DSP) eligibility is not based on the diagnosis of a condition alone, but on the functional impact of a person's medical conditions on their ability to work.

  • Under legislation, medical conditions must be permanent, fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised before the department's health professionals are able to assess the functional impact of those conditions.
  • People applying for DSP need to provide the department with all relevant medical evidence about their conditions. This ensures the department is able to comprehensively assess the medical eligibility for the payment.
  • People have a right to request a review of a decision to reject a claim, and can provide additional evidence about their circumstances.
  • A person can also lodge a new claim at any time if their circumstances change, or they have additional information or evidence that indicates a change to their condition.

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