Andrew Westerlund was a healthy and active 12-year-old boy who loved playing soccer, hiking and being outside. Suddenly, on December 21, 2012, he started to complain about pains in his stomach. His mom Shannon thought the pain might originate from his appendix, so she took him to their local hospital in North Vancouver. They were quickly transferred to BC Children’s Hospital, where Andrew was admitted for tests, treatments and monitoring. Several days later, Andrew was sent home with medication and an appointment with the hospital’s Children’s Heart Centre.
When the time came for his appointment Andrew’s condition had deteriorated significantly and he could barely walk into the Heart Centre. He was immediately transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where the family learned that Andrew had an enlarged heart. Improper blood flow was beginning to shut down his organs. Andrew was in urgent need of a heart transplant. His family was told it could take up to a year to find an organ that would be a perfect match.
In the meantime Andrew had open-heart surgery to help stabilize his condition while he waited for a new heart. On January 16, 2013, he became the first patient at BC Children’s Hospital to get a Berlin Heart, an artificial heart about the size of a small refrigerator that pumps blood for the patient during the wait for a transplant. Luckily, just five days after Andrew was hooked up to the Berlin Heart, a donor heart was found for Andrew. He immediately went back into surgery, receiving his new heart on January 21, 2013.
Andrew made an extraordinary recovery. He returned home just 15 days after his heart transplant. More remarkably, he was skiing just eight weeks post-transplant and returned to school 10 weeks following the surgery.
A year and a half later, lightning struck 14-year-old Andrew a second time.
Andrew was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma seen in just one to two per cent of transplant patients; he began chemotherapy at BC Children’s right away. In April 2015, just as he came to the final phase of his cancer treatment, his health journey took yet another strange turn. Genetic testing revealed a likely connection between all of his medical issues, including his earlier diagnosis of hearing loss. Andrew was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disorder seen in just 200 people in the world.
For now, Andrew’s prognosis is unclear, though one thing is certain: the specialists and caregivers at BC Children’s Hospital who have grown close to him will continue to follow his progress and help him grow into the strong, healthy young man he’s determined to become.
Watch Andrew's story: