1 October, 2022

“I was in hospital and rehab for eight months having to learn how to do everything again – walk, talk, speak, make a cup of tea.”

Andrea was born legally blind, but she never let it stand in the way of her dreams. Just a few years ago Andrea’s life was full. She surrounded herself with friends and thrived in the hospitality industry.

“I had great jobs,” Andrea says. “I was working all the time and I was loving life. And then suddenly, my life changed dramatically.”

Andrea was going to work one day when she knew something was seriously wrong.

“I couldn’t get myself up on the platform at the train station,” says Andrea. “And so I walked myself to the hospital.”

This was the start of a gruelling eight-month journey.

“I had so many MRIs, ECGs, CT scans, brain operations and all of that,” Andrea says. “I was having seizures where I was frothing at the mouth. I didn’t quite understand what was going on with myself. No one at all could give answers.”

After months in hospital and multiple tests, Andrea finally got her diagnosis: alpha-methylacyl-coa racemase deficiency, a disorder that causes a variety of neurological problems.

“My illness is actually genetic,” she says. “So both my parents are carriers. But there’s ten in the world with this illness, and two out of that ten is me and my older brother.”

After eight months spent in hospitals and rehabilitation, Andrea was cleared to go. But due to her specific ongoing care requirements, Andrea had to move into an aged care facility where she stayed for the next two years. And though she bonded with the residents, Andrea wanted to forge her own path in life and she certainly felt too young for aged care.

“I eventually managed to get out of the aged care and I’ve been living independently on my own.”

But independent living was lonely. No longer able to work, Andrea was at risk of social isolation. And so, tapping into her love for hospitality, Andrea’s support worker introduced her to ADRA.

Andrea started volunteering at the ADRA food program in Croydon

“The first time I walked in the door I knew I was going to be comfortable and happy.”

Andrea started with ADRA by helping to prepare and serve community meals at the program in Croydon. And when an ADRA Op Shop started in Boronia, Andrea was asked to help out there too.

A woman with dark hair, a tiger striped, and an ADRA apron stands in front of a clothing rack in an Op Shop

Andrea helped with the start up of the ADRA Boronia Op Shop

Volunteering with ADRA pushed Andrea out of her comfort zone, but in doing so, she began to feel like herself again for the first time in a long time.

“The more I was there, the more I was helping myself,” she says. “I’ve loved every moment. Everybody’s so friendly and makes everybody feel welcome. So that’s what I love about ADRA.”

Volunteering with ADRA was the first step for Andrea to begin to put herself out there again.

“I’m doing social groups now as well,” she says. “I get the nickname ‘Hostess with the Mostess’. So yeah, my life is starting to get better now.”

Now, Andrea is looking to move into her own apartment, and she celebrates each birthday like it’s a milestone.

“Every year is an important year when you have a birthday,” Andrea says.

Andrea is so grateful for the role that ADRA has played in kick-starting her life after her diagnosis.

“Everybody needs somebody to help them. I just want to say thank you. I think I’m very lucky.”

Your gift by October 31 can provide people with disabilities, just like Andrea, with a support system and opportunities they need to improve their wellbeing. Help build belonging, today! Donate today at adra.org.au/donate