Nat & Andy: A Love Story

After a freezing week in Northern France, unearthing thousands of photos of Aussie Diggers from WWI, we were glad to go to the ever-so-slightly warmer city of Wurzburg in Germany (trust me those few degrees really make a difference). We were there to tell the inspirational story of a young couple who’d endured more than most people could manage.

Natalie Langworthy and Andy Fairclough are both British but have lived in Australia for many years. They met in 2007 through mutual friends and – as they told us – it was pretty much love at first sight. Both were young, fit, sporty and enthusiastic about life; now they had found true love, they had found the person they wanted to grow old with. In September 2008 Nat fell pregnant. Incredibly excited, she devised an intricate ‘treasure hunt’ inside their flat to break the news to Andy. The treasure hunt trail finally led to the oven – inside she had placed a bun. Andy was overjoyed.

But life deals difficult hands. In March 2010, Natalie noticed she was bruising very easily and was getting blood blisters in her mouth. She went to the local hospital for tests. At 12 am that night the hospital called. She had leukemia.

She was treated with chemotherapy and finally a bone marrow transplant, but to no avail. In October 2010 she was given a medical death sentence – she had two weeks to live.

Andy and Natalie were in despair; they had been living the dream, had a beautiful one-year-old daughter, but now at the age of 34 Natalie was going to die.

Natalie told us “…three days before I was diagnosed I remember running along the beach thinking my life is incredible, I have an amazing man and a gorgeous little baby, live in the most amazing place on earth…how have I been so lucky? and then just a few days later…you know oh well…”

Andy couldn’t … wouldn’t … accept that this was happening to his young, healthy partner and mother of their child. For three days and nights he trawled the Internet searching desperately for some alternative treatment; anything that might give them a glimmer of hope. Finally late on the third night, a friend emailed him. She’d found a clinical trial in Wurzburg Germany of a new drug called Blinatumomab. It was the drug that would eventually save his partner’s life.

Around 2.30 am in the morning, Andy called Max Topp, the German doctor in charge of the trial. After explaining Natalie’s condition at length, Max replied – “Andy. I feel your desperation. I understand your situation, I want to help you. And I think I can…”. The young couple had found their glimmer of hope.

They flew to Germany, and after two days of treatment with Blinatumomab there was no trace of leukemia in Nat’s blood. By the end of the second drug cycle there was no trace of leukemia in her bone marrow.

We arrived in Wurzburg on February 4 to meet up with reporter Rahni Sadler, cameraman Jason Wotherspoon and soundman Sam Beattie.

Listening to Nat & Andy’s story during the various interviews we shot with them was an emotional experience. Often we were all close to tears. Their strength of character, their unconditional love, is inspirational.

The friendship that grew between the couple and Dr. ‘Top Max’ (as they affectionately call him) is incredible. He is no ordinary doctor. He bonds with his patients; he sets them goals. He gives them hope. When Natalie was first put on the drug in November 2010, Max set her the goal of walking a mile by Christmas. Sure enough on Christmas Day, Natalie – with Andy, her mother Deborah, Elkie and Max – walked that mile.

One of the main sequences we filmed was the second goal Max had set for Natalie: sledging in the snowfields around Wurzburg. It was hard to imagine that just months before, this young lady was on the verge of death. It was wonderful to see the joy on the faces of Andy, Deborah, Max and baby Elkie as Natalie flew down the slopes on her sledge, laughing, yelling and having fantastic fun.

The story had been organized so that we would be in Wurzburg when Natalie went back to hospital to have more tests and begin the third cycle of the drug. The couple were full of hope but we could sense they still had an underlying fear – that the leukemia might have resurfaced.

On the  February 8, the critical test results came back. We filmed the moment Max got the phone call. Although he was speaking in German, the tears of joy in his eyes said it all. Even at a molecular level Nat had no trace of leukemia in her body. It was a day of celebration.

Our final sequence was filming Nat & Andy coming out of hospital, full of excitement, joy and hope; looking forward to returning to their normal life; looking forward to putting this tragedy behind them; looking forward to watching their beautiful daughter grow up.

While Nat in theory still has a leukemia, at this point the chances of her absolute recovery are very high. Her next step is to have a second bone marrow transplant, which, if all goes well, should finally cure her. But if it doesn’t she still has Blinatumomab. The drug is still in clinical trials; its full potential hasn’t yet been explored. It is very probable that it could be used to control leukemia through intravenous injections – just as insulin is used to control diabetes.

If true love exists, Natalie Langworthy and Andy Fairclough have found it. Theirs is a story about despair and hope, weakness and strength, sadness and joy. The moral is simply this: no matter what the world throws at you, even when all hope seems to be lost – never give up.

We left Wurzburg full of joy.

Brendan

P.S. The show went to air on Sunday the 7th of March. You can watch Nat & Andy’s story here:

Part 1: http://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunday-night/video/-/watch/24427328/

Part 2: http://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunday-night/video/-/watch/24427320/

If you wish to follow Natalie’s progress you can join the “Help Save Natalie” page on Facebook.

If you’re on Twitter you can follow Nat’s progress @SaveNatCampaign.

Andy also has his own website http://www.flyingfishonline.com/helpNat.

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~ by brendo91 on 07/03/2011.

9 Responses to “Nat & Andy: A Love Story”

  1. Well said Brendan!

  2. Thanks, Brendan, what a beautiful story! I look forward to watching the film. It must have touched you very deeply to spend close time with them and witness such dramatic moments in their lives. The Germans seem to be ahead of many others in innovative treatments for cancer, I’ve heard of others going there for treatments that weren’t available anywhere else. Dr Topp sounds like a good man indeed!

  3. Hey Bren. I saw the program go to air in Australia and loved it to pieces. An extra-ordinary story that had us all choking back the tears. Channel 7 doesn’t put credits to the stories on their “Sunday Night” program so I was pleased as punch to find out that my two favourite stories aired this year by them (Anzacs and Nat and Andy) both have your DNA on them! Exceptionally nice work.

  4. What an inspirational tale. Thanks Brendan. Do come say hi when you are around this backwater. xx

  5. What kind of drug is that? It seems amazing that such a simple treatment can cure such a bad disease. You should spread this story all over!

    (Bun in the oven. I know this expression! 🙂 )
    Good job!

  6. Many thanks Brnadan for this excellent wrtie up and for your part in such a fantastic program.

    Cheers

    Andy and Nat

  7. This is very well written Brendan. It is a moving story. Keep up the good work. Grandma

  8. Hey Brendan,
    Love ya work.
    Keep telling those awesome yarns, I can’t wait until the next one!
    Hope to catch up soon and say hello to your Dad.
    Cheers,
    Paul

  9. So glad you all enjoyed the story as much as i enjoyed writing it! Thank you for all the comments!
    Brendan

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