25 July 2023

Organ donors saved this Albion Park dad's life three times but almost half the Illawarra is not on the registry

| Keeli Royle
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Andrew, Donna and their two children.

Andrew’s life has been saved by organ donors three times since 1994. Photos: Supplied/Beer family.

Andrew Beer has had three separate organ transplants in the past three decades and has been told that he had just months left to live on more than one occasion.

The father from Albion Park was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at just 23 while living in England and despite being young and healthy, a heart transplant was the only cure.

“My world literally collapsed, I was in absolute shock. I was then really worried because I had to break the news to Mum and Dad and I think I was more worried about that to be honest because I know how heartbroken they would be.”

He was told it would take almost a year before he was in the condition to be put on the transplant list, but his health rapidly deteriorated in a couple of months.

But fortunately, the turnaround to find a heart donor was incredibly quick.

“I went on the list on the Monday, I went back home on the Thursday and Friday night the phone went.”

READ ALSO Shellharbour toddler shows extraordinary strength after three heart surgeries but the battle is not over yet

He went on to recover and lived a full life with his Australian wife Donna, but he found himself back in hospital in 2005 with long-term rejection and in need of a new heart.

“Two of the arteries in the heart had virtually blocked right up, so I was in trouble.

“It was very upsetting and shocking,” Andrew said. “They did warn me that this was not going to happen like my first one.”

He was given just six months to live and after being called in twice to receive hearts that ended up being unsuitable, he had started to give up hope.

“One day Donna came in from work and on that particular day I decided that I wasn’t going to get another transplant and I had just accepted that I probably wasn’t going to live.”

But he received one more call.

“When there’s high expectations you’d be absolutely devastated every time,” he said. “So you go in with the lowest of expectation and this time it went through.”

He experienced another miracle just months later when his wife fell pregnant with their first child and then later they became a family of four.

And although his heart held up, a decade later Andrew received another devastating blow.

“My kidneys had totally failed so I was literally put straight onto dialysis,” he said. “The diagnosis was that it was all to do with the immunosuppressive drugs.”

He was forced to be on dialysis for 18 months.

“Dialysis is such a horrible thing to be on, it really is, especially when you have two young kids as well, trying to explain to them that three nights a week you’re not going to be home when they get home from school because you’re now on a machine,” he said.

However, there was hope as Andrew’s father volunteered to donate.

“My dad wanted to donate me a kidney, so they ran all the tests on him and found out that he had prostate cancer; it was in early stages, very, very early stages.”

“I didn’t want him to give me a kidney but I’m so glad that he offered because without that they’d never had found out he had prostate cancer.”

Because the family had been undergoing the process of testing Andrew’s father, they didn’t think he would be on the transplant list, until Andrew received a familiar phone call.

“They started asking me questions about how I was feeling and all this and I’m thinking this is familiar, because it’s the same sort of questions from the heart transplant and I said, ‘Oh my god, have you got a kidney for me?’

READ ALSO The lifeblood of the Illawarra roll up their sleeves and celebrate National Blood Donor Week

“I was just so blown away, it really put my life back on track.”

Andrew and Donna and their two teenage children now have their life set up and Andrew’s health is thriving, but he’s still shocked at how many others may be missing out on vital transplants because of the current donor system.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t realise that you’ve got to opt in now,” he said.

Anyone 16 or over can register to be an organ donor, with each donor able to save up to seven lives.

Only around 47 per cent of eligible donors in Wollongong and Shellharbour have registered but the Kiama LGA has one of the highest rates in the state with 58 per cent registered.

A pencil drawing of a realistic heart on newspaper clippings.

Andrew’s daughter Caitlin created this artwork honouring organ donation.

This week is Donate Life Week and Australians are being urged to take a minute to talk to their family about their wishes and take a minute to register.

And with 1800 people on the organ donor waitlist, Andrew knows better than most that anyone can be impacted.

“I’ve always said, ‘If you needed a transplant, would you take a transplant?’ And if you said yes than you should say yes to registering as well.”

To find out more or to register visit the Donate Life website.

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