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Andrea Barrett
Heart transplant February 2002
Swapping heart surgery for skiing

Andrea BarrettOn the crisp white snow of the Swiss resort Anzere, a group of children hurtle down the slopes laughing and shouting.

They look the picture of health and full of life.

But they are all miracles of modern medicine as this is the Tackers ski camp - and all the children have had an organ transplant.

The camp is in its second season and offers children from the UK and across Europe a chance to escape the regime of tablets and special diets and have fun in the snow.

This year there are 32 children on the trip and for almost all the opportunity to ski, snowboard, paraglide and go dog sleighing will be the first chance to express themselves both physically and emotionally.

Tackers is a non-profit making organisation and it puts on these adventure camps for transplantees to raise awareness of organ donation and improve long term survival.

Boosting recovery
All the children are aged 8-15 and its thought that by participating in sports it can help recovery. But perhaps the best thing the children get out of it is spending time with kids just like them, who know what its like to have undergone such a trauma.

Andrea Barrett's story is typical of many of those at Tackers.
The 10-year-old from Stansted in Essex was born with a hole in the heart. This was repaired when she was still a baby and apart from regular check-ups for her pacemaker, her parents thought everything was fine.

But four years ago during a routine check-up she had an ECG scan which revealed a serious cardiac weakness, and by the October 2001 she could barely walk to school.

Major surgery
Tests more tests and months of uncertainty eventually led to one conclusion, Andrea would need a heart transplant.

Andrea BarrettThen began a long and painful wit for her and her family until an early morning phone call in February 2002.

The heart of a six-year-old boy was transplanted into Andrea and it initially seemed to be going very well.

But then the classic problems of tissue rejection started.

Her kidneys failed and then her lungs collapsed.

It was tough going for all but the modern medication regime worked and after a week in intensive care Andrea's new life began.

It's a life of daily medication - but it is a new life.

Now she's like any other 10 year old - running around enjoying her bike, playing on swings and of course now skiing.

"Its great. Its a good experience, to learn skiing and to meet good friends," she said.

Her greatest hardship appeared to be getting up at 8am!

Shared experiences
For her and many others meeting children who share a similar background proved invaluable.

"It was great I could discuss the transplant and how it has affected kids like us."

And that's the aim. Liz Schick, founder of Tackers, hopes to establish adventure camps in other countries and to encourage the development of a pen pal network and other forms of cultural exchange, for young transplant recipients.

"What affects me the most is seeing the children who arrive at the camp, lacking in self-confidence, change during the course of the weekend.

Andrea Barrett"They literally 'grow up' as they begin to test their physical capabilities and develop their independence."

The children at the camp certainly found their weekend transforming.

By the end of it all the children had experienced something they'd been unable to experience for years - fun without limits.

What advice would Andrea give to another girl/boy waiting for a transplant right now?

"To always keep calm whatever the doctor says, and to enjoy life," she said.

And that's what all this is about, teaching these very brave kids and their family to cope now and in the future.

As it doesn't end now - as the average half life of an organ is approx 6-10 years, many children will go on to need another transplant when they grow older.

It's also vital to find the most effective, least toxic drug combination to ensure long term survival and reduce the risk of further kidney disease.

Added to all of this is the biggest struggle of all turning into a teenager.

For Andrea and her friends, the adventure is just beginning.

Buddy Hickey
Buddy Hickey
Heart Transplant 1988

"Do I believe in miracles?

You betcha!"

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