Bizarre reason Kiwi woman moving to Australia was detained at airport: 'Really scary'

The New Zealand woman was interrogated by customs agents after she admitted she was carrying her old heart in her luggage.

Left, Jessica Manning holding her sealed human heart. Right, Jessica Manning at the airport before declaring she had the heart in her luggage.
New Zealander Jessica Manning was stopped by Aussie customs agents at the airport after she admitted she had a human organ in her luggage. Source: TikTok

A New Zealand woman who recently moved to Australia was left sobbing and “scared” after being interrogated at the border – in quite literally a heart-stopping moment.

Jessica Manning, who underwent a life-saving heart and liver transplant five years ago, says the entire ordeal began after she revealed to customs agents she had an “odd object” in her luggage while trying to immigrate to Australia. Understandably, she was still attached to her old heart, and had decided to bring it with her.

While waiting in the airport for her suitcase, the 30-year-old recounted in a TikTok video how she had not yet declared the “human heart” she packed inside. “There’s no option on the arrival card… of human remains, only animal body parts, [but] I’m going to tell them anyway,” she whispers into her phone, admitting she is “nervous”.

Her confession left several security workers a little gobsmacked.

“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” the first customs agent she encountered said before asking his boss for help.

Jessica, who was born with six heart defects including half a heart, donated her dead organs for medical research following her transplant. However, 10 months later she was asked if she would like her heart back — an available option due to the Māori belief one’s body should be returned the way it was created.

It now lives covered with formaldehyde in a vacuum-sealed bag at the top of her wardrobe until she can bury it in the backyard of her first home.

Not wanting to leave her heart behind as she and her partner start a new chapter of their lives in Melbourne, Jessica said she had decided to risk it — but the lengthy detainment by airport security did “get really scary”.

“They sent me to the area where they usually look through all the bags if they think you’re dodgy,” she said, adding she repeatedly explained the story to customs agents and offered notes from a recent hospital follow-up as proof.

Left, Jessica Manning smiling after her heart and liver transplant. Right, Jessica Manning sick in the hospital before the transplant five years ago.
Jessica Manning underwent a heart and liver transplant five years ago, ultimately saving her life. Source: NZ Herald/Supplied/TikTok

After some back and forth, the “boss” told the 30-year-old teacher she wasn’t allowed to bring the organ through and will instead “need to bin it” at the airport.

“That’s when I started crying… I was so incredibly tired, I just had to say goodbye to everyone in New Zealand,” she said, explaining she was alone because her partner had already been let in.

“So I sat there crying until somebody else came, you know, and talked to me. They were more worried that my heart had some disease in it that I could bring into the country, which is why they needed documentation to state that it doesn’t have a disease, or that it’s not a threat.”

At this point, Jessica said it was “just her” and staff in the nearly empty airport. Eventually, after inspecting the sealed heart, her medications and paperwork, they “finally” let her into the country.

“After all the panic… I think there was like seven or eight different biosecurity people coming to talk to me, they finally let me through, and they just said it’s not something that I can travel with, which I know — it’s not like I'm gonna change countries every six months.

“Anyway, the heart is safe and sound. It’s at the top of my wardrobe, the usual, but it scared the s*** out of me, and I was not going to leave security without my heart.”

Now, many months on, she has well and truly settled in Australia – one of thousands who make the permanent move every year from across the ditch. Kiwis are the fourth largest migrant community in Australia with some 560,000 New Zealand-born people living here, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data in June 2021.

While many come for the job opportunities, higher salaries and warmer weather, it's not all love. In a video earlier this year, Jessica laid out what she hasn't liked about Melbourne and what has "shocked her".

The "three things" were the traffic and speeding fines issued by road authorities, the large number of tolled roads and the "crap" pies in Australia.

"I racked up more than $15000 worth of fines in my first two months since I moved here," she complained.

"There are toll roads everywhere ... My partner and I racked up $500 worth of tolls ... We had no idea."

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