While the Australian Electoral commission is still counting one or two seats in the House…
In our Summer Love series, Ginger Gorman explores different kinds of heart-warming Canberra relationships.
“I think we love deeper than anyone I know because we both know how precious life is,” 33-year-old Heidi tells me a few minutes into our conversation. A first glance, her marriage to Andy, also 33, might seem just like any other loving couple’s relationship. But it’s not.
Heidi describes the moment she saw Andy across the room at a Canberra house party back in 2011 as being like a scene from the dorky rom-coms she loved watching at the time. She couldn’t take her eyes off him: “He was super good looking and gorgeous in my unbiased opinion. It felt like I was in a movie with corny music in the background.”
Heidi was uncharacteristically nervous and consequently, her pickup line wasn’t too flash. She asked Andy: “Aren’t you Carla’s little brother? I’m Emma’s little sister.”
The pair, both 33, went to the same high school in Tamworth, Northern NSW, but back then they didn’t know each other. However, their older sisters were friends.
“You were too popular to hang out with me. You were too cool,” Andy says to Heidi, before adding: “With me being a big nerdberger in high school.” His wife laughs out loud as he recalls his erstwhile passion for Star Wars and heavy metal music. For her part, Heidi loved sport and singing. She was in all the yearbook photos.
Andy was not. “I certainly didn’t peak in high school. Let’s put it that way,” he confesses, “I didn’t have as much confidence then. I tended to keep a low profile.”
But Heidi wasn’t fazed by distant memories of high school; she instinctively knew Andy was part of her future: “At the end of the party, I got in the car and went home, and I called my mum and I said, ‘I’ve just I’ve just met the guy that I’m going to marry.’”
Her enthusiasm at their initial Canberra meeting—where they’d both moved to take up work opportunities—wasn’t a one-way street. Right from the get-go, Andy was keen: “Everything was very easy. Conversing with her and spending time with her had a natural flow. It felt right.”
The couple aren’t in the same room when we speak over Zoom. Heidi is in Canberra and Andy is speaking from Sydney. He was released from hospital the day before we talk.
Why? Andy’s body was producing antibodies in his plasma and this caused “acute rejection” of the lung transplant he had three years ago. In short, he required intensive specialist treatment to stop his body attacking the new lungs.
While I’m alarmed at this news, a medical situation like this isn’t unusual for Andy. He has cystic fibrosis (CF) – an inherited, progressive disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. There is no known cure and because of this, the pair have faced situations most other couples never will.
“We are pretty good at communicating, you know, when things are going wrong for me and having a bit of a plan in place,” Andy says calmly.
“Communication is the big one. We’re both really probably honest to a fault. We’re both comfortable with sharing everything with each other,” Heidi agrees.
At aged 26, only two years after getting together and not long after moving in together, Heidi found herself in hospital preparing an emergency will for Andy. The incident brought them closer together, and by December 2013 they were engaged.
The pair married surrounded by friends and family in March 2015. But from then until 2017, before Andy’s successful lung transplant, they once again faced some very dark times.
“I was declining rapidly [and] both of us had to go through the process of accepting and grieving that I was likely to die. We started making arrangements for my burial and things like that, which was very hard to go through as a 30-year-old,” Andy recalls.
Right from the start, he knew his disease would impact their relationship. And Andy worried about it: “No one thought I’d live long enough to get married. Given the degenerative nature of the disease, I knew that I wasn’t necessarily going to have a particularly long lifespan. So I couldn’t commit myself to long term plans because they may well have not eventuated. I didn’t see a long-term future for myself.”
What Andy didn’t know when they met in 2011 was that Heidi already knew he had CF. Her mother told Heidi many years earlier when they were at school. And she didn’t care.
On the contrary, Heidi believes Andy’s devastating illness has brought much to their marriage: “I feel like we have a much richer relationship because it’s something that we’ve had to fight against together, rather than it actually being a barrier,” she says.
Heidi also suspects that some of the positive qualities she sees in Andy are as a result of him having a chronic illness.
“He’s just incredibly intelligent and really kind and empathetic. And I think that you don’t always meet a person that has all of those things together,” she says.
In return, Andy says of Heidi: “She’s someone that has my back in a very pure and non-judgmental way. She’s made me a much better person.”
Like Heidi, he also believes illness—as well as his supportive family—has shaped him: “With cystic fibrosis, I guess you have to grow up quickly. Your experience is different to someone that doesn’t live with a chronic illness—you know, having to constantly think about all the things you need to do to keep well to get to the next day…those experiences shape you and give you a much deeper perspective on life and what you want out of it.”
Both Heidi and Andy reflect that in a strange way, the COVID pandemic was a blessing for them. Not only did they love spending time together, but Andy wasn’t constantly sick and in hospital. In 2016, Andy was so unwell he was having some kind of medical care for 323 days out of 365. His illness eclipsed the entire year.
However, this year—because everyone around them has been handwashing and mask-wearing—Andy hasn’t picked up his usual infections. He’s only been in hospital for a total of 13 days.
“It’s just not something that we’ve really ever experienced before to actually have whole year together,” Heidi says. Alongside their dog, Monty, she’s sitting in the home they’ve recently purchased together – another milestone which seemed out of reach for so long.
“We’re really remembering how grateful we are to have every day together and hopeful for anything that we have in our future,” she says.