When we last caught up with Georgina Beyer back in November, the only future plans the former politician was making were her funeral preparations. Due to sudden heart failure, her scheduled kidney transplant was cancelled and unlikely to ever go ahead, and she simply couldn’t face a lifetime on dialysis.
“I’ve had enough,” sighed a gaunt, exhausted Georgina, who was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure in 2013. “I’m prepared to die. I’m not scared. If it all ended sooner rather than later, I’ve had an amazing life.”
Now, however, the world’s first transsexual MP is singing another tune after an improbable recovery from the heart disease cardiomyopathy, which means she can finally accept the generous offer of a kidney donation from a close friend.
Looking healthier and more energetic than she has in years, Wellington-based Georgina, 59, grins, “It’s unbelievable – miracle of miracles! The medical and surgical experts didn’t expect the treatment to be effective, but now if all things go well, life can return to normal.”
Her longtime friend Grant Pittams first offered up one of his kidneys in late 2015. Joining us for a chat in Auckland, where they’ve been undergoing tests ahead of the surgery, the Carterton resident tells, “I could see Georgie’s health deteriorate in front of me. Every time I saw her, she was thinner and sicker. It was sad and frustrating, and there was no prospect of an end to it unless someone did something. Finally, I decided it had to be me.
“It wasn’t time for Georgie to go, and I’m not going to let a good friend die when I’m healthy and can do something about it. She’s got a lot of life left in her and we can’t allow someone like her to go too early. New Zealand hasn’t finished with Georgie – and she hasn’t finished with New Zealand either!”
Smiling, Georgina continues, “We’d had a couple of mutual friends pass away in recent years and he didn’t want me to go that way too. I just sat there and howled when he told me.” Grant, 61, who works for the Ministry of Health, adds, “You cried like a girl!”
“Well, it’s an incredible gift,” explains Georgina. “I’ll never get over the altruistic nature of this gesture. You’re essentially giving me life.”
The surgery is scheduled for later this month, but the former Labour MP and Dancing with the Stars contestant warns, “We’re not out of the woods yet. If they’re not happy with the test results, they can cancel the transplant the day before the operation – and that has a 10% chance of failure too because Grant and I don’t have compatible blood types. But I’m very optimistic.”
Indeed, Georgina, who worked as a prostitute and drag queen before being elected as Mayor of Carterton in 1995, is already thinking about her new life ahead and how she’ll support herself. After years on a sickness benefit, she says, “I’ve been out of the workforce for so long now, I don’t know how easy it’ll be, but I’ve always said I’ll have a go at the next local-body election once I’m well enough. But there’s also someone who wants me to star in a one-woman roadshow based on the story of my life.”
Georgina adds that it’s her duty to become an advocate for organ donation, for which we have a woefully low rate here in Aotearoa. “I’ll definitely donate my own organs ... if there are any useful ones left by the end of it,” she quips.
However, the first thing that Georgina is looking forward to after her transplant is one of life’s simple pleasures.
“Having a bath and lying in it up to my neck!” she hoots. “I haven’t been able to immerse myself in water since I’ve had kidney failure. After that, I’ll be back in my bikini on Oriental Bay until the steroids I have to take kick in. I might bloat up when that happens, which is a shame because it’s taken me a long time to get down to this size – with very little effort!”
Georgina is also excited about travelling overseas, something her dialysis made impossible, and a return to a normal diet. She says, “When you’ve got kidney failure, you can’t eat anything with potassium and sodium, so I haven’t been allowed to have bananas, citrus fruit or carrots. I can’t wait to have a big fruit salad. It’s those ordinary things that are part of living that you don’t notice until they’re taken away from you.
“I have been waiting four years for this moment and I’m impatient to get on with it now that I’m finally tickety-boo! This is the gift of life and I’m welcoming it with open arms.”