In 1993 Stuart Birt was away from home dealing with a fire at his firm’s factory when someone called him to say his 18-year-old son had been airlifted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital from an inter-house rugby match at school.
“It was quite literally the worst weekend of my life,” he recalls. “Andrew was in intensive care for three weeks and they were saying it was touch and go.”
But Andrew pulled through and, in the days before the RFU’s Injured Players Foundation, their forerunner SPIRE, “were very supportive. SPIRE and Stowe School and the rugby community made all the difference. There was a match at Stowe where Lawrence Dallaglio played in an International XV against the Headmaster’s XV. Will Carling and Gavin Hastings also gave their support to fundraising carried out by Andrew’s school friends. Andrew was on TV a couple of times,” says Stuart.
Andrew remembers little about the injury. “I think basically it was a bad tackle. I was ten months in Stoke Mandeville and the youngest on my ward. Then Stowe School created a temporary building where I lived with two of my school friends and I had a carer at night.”
From there Andrew did an HND in business studies at a Watford College before his family moved to Northamptonshire and he studied multi-media at Northampton University while living at home.
He remains a big rugby fan and, in the year England won the Rugby World Cup, he bought a holiday home in Florida. Says dad Stuart” It’s great because guys like Andrew often feel the cold as they have trouble controlling their body temperature, so he can sit in the sun by the pool. But he’s so successful at renting it out we get less and less time there!”
Not only does Andrew rent out his own home, he has created “a few websites” and helps other homeowners rent their Florida homes out too, as well as giving advice on accessibility and creating a fact sheet on flying when you are in a wheelchair.
He has just watched England beat Wales from the terrace of the RFU Injured Players box and says: “Coming here with my dad and getting together with the other guys is really great.
“The IPF makes a big difference. They funded my current vehicle, which gives me independence, built my bathroom and recently paid for a new motor for my wheelchair.”
His dad adds: “Andrew has always been positive. Because he was showing no signs of stress, at one stage we arranged a psychologist to talk to him. After two or three sessions they said he wasn’t bottling it all up, he accepted that was his life.
“Having Andrew living with us has been brilliant but knowing the charity is there for him and for us certainly helps.”