By Ron Camier
On Friday 1st December 2017, despite extreme weather warnings, about 400~450 people gathered at Eternity Church in Morwell to celebrate the life of Andrea Camier. Her extraordinarily loving and caring nature, beaming smile and sparkling personality had impacted many people.
As well as adoring her husband, three married children and seven grandchildren, she had been like a mother to many. This was through her work supporting families as a speech pathologist, through her fun engagement with people in our 4WD tour business, through her enthusiastic organisation of community festivals and church outreach events, through caring for young people living in our home, and through simply meeting and greeting people in the streets, schools and shops around our town. It didn’t matter to her whether people were rich and famous, or poor and needy, everyone was of value. Andy lived out her Christian faith through everyday practicalities.
Her MND journey began after noticing difficulties with slurring speech. Medical investigations led to a local neurologist in May 2015, who suggested motor neurone disease as a possible cause. A quick search on the internet led me to the realisation that her symptoms ‘ticked all the boxes’, and I probably alarmed all the family with the information that the likely survival time would be 2~5 years. (In fact she had 2½ years from this date.) The diagnosis, by elimination of other possible ailments, was confirmed at Bethlehem Hospital, the state centre for neurological diseases in Melbourne, in November 2015. We learned that there was no known cure or cause, although there was suspicion of anti-cholesterol medication prescribed a few months earlier.
We were linked with MND Victoria, LRH allied health, LCHS palliative care and DHHS funding support. So with additional help from family, friends and her employer we were well looked after through this terrible journey. I was given information on what to expect in stages: 1. Diagnosis – loss of our future, 2. Physical decline – loss of function, 3. Death – loss of life partner, and 4. Emptiness – loss of activity.
We were advised to have a good holiday because it would be our last, so a campervan tour of New Zealand was undertaken. This was like a second honeymoon and a great adventure with many amusing episodes brought about by Andy’s communication difficulties and my interest in ‘getting off the beaten track’.
Immediately upon our return in April 2016, Andy was admitted to the Austin Hospital to be fitted with a ventilator to assist breathing, and a PEG tube into her stomach to assist nutrition. Although confronting, she happily accepted that this was necessary to ‘see her grandchildren growing up’. As her speech disappeared she began using an iPad with voice synthesiser to communicate.
Over the next 18 months her arms, hands and neck muscles stopped working, and care requirements increased to 24/7 with professional carers coming 5 days/week, and tremendous help from family and friends. So she was still the centrepiece of our home, with numerous visitors, in sickness as she had been in health. Australia Post, local florists and our internet service had a pretty heavy workout. The night before she passed away she had breathing difficulties and was taken by ambulance to LRH. The following morning, 25th November, she had a far-away look in her eyes, then peacefully closed them.
Judging by the avalanche of tributes received, Andy’s selflessness inspired many, and she will be greatly missed by family, friends and the communities she touched.