Angela Beesley Mackenzie, husband James and dog Bella are looking forward to spending time at the Steampunk NZ Festival this weekend. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

A lot can happen in 24 hours, as Angela Beesley Mackenzie well knows.

In the early hours of a November morning last year, Mrs Beesley Mackenzie received a call that she had waited almost her entire life for – a new heart was ready for her.

As Mrs Beesley Mackenzie and husband James rushed to Dunedin, to fly to Auckland, she had no idea that exactly 24 hours later her heart transplant would be complete.

“It was the out-of-body experience. I’m very lucky I’ve got a very, very caring husband and if I hadn’t had him I probably wouldn’t have been very calm,” she said.

Mrs Beesley Mackenzie was born with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a condition which makes it hard for the heart to pump blood.

She spent 11 hours in heart surgery, and was attended to by 10 doctors.

For four days, doctors struggled to bring her out of the coma and her condition began to decline, costing her half of her body weight. When she woke there was only one thing on her mind

“If they didn’t get me up and going, the heart would be rejected.”

As she lay in bed, she could hear a banging in her ears and it took a while for her to realise where it was coming from – her heart.

“It was really weird. You can hear every aorta and valve opening and closing; it’s almost like having an echo right in your ear.

“It took two or three days to get used to; there’s a lot of things you have to get used to.”

In the following weeks as she recovered, she moved through wards until she was taken to her new home, Hearty Towers. The transplant ward had become somewhat of a haven for Mrs Beesley Mackenzie, who described the staff as “amazing humans”.

Mrs Beesley Mackenzie has been back at home since December but, for the past three months, has returned to Hearty Towers every 11 days for a biopsy. She will now return every 28 days for the next six months.

It was the help from the Oamaru community that kept her going, she said.

As soon as she received the call, friends came to look after their three children, Mr Mackenzie’s mother looked after them, and people fundraised to ensure any additional needs were met. She was blown away by the generosity.

“It all fell into place. It’s so overwhelming all the help and kindness we’ve had. It’s just been phenomenal. All of Otago’s stepped up to look after me, and I don’t think we can ever return that kindness.”

Day-to-day life had always been hard for Mrs Beesley Mackenzie. She was diagnosed with her condition at age 5 and had valve surgery soon after.

She received further surgery at 13, but she continued to feel tired, lethargic and struggled with day-to-day activities.

After last year’s surgery, she was relishing the things many people took for granted, such as walking the children to school and going shopping.

“You get told now, so go out and live it’. I went shopping by myself for the first time in over a year and found it really empowering and thrilling.”

She judged a Lego competition with her son, and then took him to the Criterion – two things she would never have been able to do before surgery.

“I hated skipping out – just having to prioritise what was important because, to me, everyone’s important, I hate letting people down.”

It makes this weekend even more thrilling for her, as the steampunk enthusiast will attend more events than ever before at the annual Steampunk NZ Festival. In the past, she had been forced to sell tickets as her condition stopped her from attending.

“I couldn’t get up from the table and talk to people. I would have to wait for people to come to me and I hated that. I don’t want to feel special or important, I just want to be me.”

She fell in love with steampunk four years ago, and spent time on the committee networking with open-minded people who expressed themselves in similar ways.

She admired fellow steampunks who created beautiful recycled garments – that was one of the main things she loved about the community.

“I’m really looking forward to the markets and parasol duelling. I know the committee works really hard. It’s always developing and you’re always thinking outside of the box of what could happen.”

Now, she looked forward to spending time with, and giving back to, those who had been so generous and kind to her family when they needed it most.