Sticking to a daily routine helps many people feel secure and productive, but adhering to a schedule is especially important for someone like Andrew Oliver of Hamilton, New Zealand.
Andy is 35 years old yet has the mental capabilities of a 6-year-old child. He’s one of only eight living people in the world with a genetic disorder called Fryns-Aftimos syndrome, a mutation in one of his chromosomes that causes a multitude of symptoms. He also suffers from five types of epilepsy.
Andy lives with his 65-year-old parents on a dairy farm. About 15 years ago Andy became fascinated by the milk tanker trucks that come to the farm at the end of each day to collect the day’s haul. Fonterra is the world’s largest dairy exporter and works with about 10,000 farming families, yet the drivers who came out to the farm quickly formed a bond with Andy during the 15 minutes it takes to fill the tanker.
Andy’s father Ken Oliver has been farming for 40 years. When his son first discovered the tanker pickup he was immediately fascinated with the truck, the drivers, and the entire process.
“[He] learned what it was, came out to see it occasionally and once in a while, would talk to a driver,” Ken explained. “But then with Andy, the normal thing is with something like this — it would become a habit. And so he had to be out to see the tanker. That became part of his nightly routine.”
Soon Andy’s routine became a sort of obsession. Each night he has a list of activities that must be accomplished before he can go to bed. First, he draws a picture to give to the tanker driver, then he watches the weather report on the 6 o’clock news, eats dinner, then has a bath. The last thing on Andy’s list is greeting the tanker truck.
On Fonterra’s old schedule the trucks would arrive anytime after 5 p.m., but they could never be positive when the truck would arrive. This meant that there were nights when Andy refused to go to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning because he hadn’t been able to check the last item off his list.
The family followed this uncertain schedule for a decade before they could no longer manage it. Andy’s mother Deirdre suffered a minor stroke, and Ken’s advancing age made it difficult for him to get by with so little sleep.
“I was absolutely out on my feet trying to keep the farm going,” Ken said. “Surviving on three or four hours sleep and I’d just run out. I’d hit the wall and so I phoned the call center and actually started crying on the phone, I was just so shot. I just said look, my life has just become impossible and just explained what was going on. I need sleep and I can’t get sleep until this boy’s in bed.”
Instead of ignoring Ken’s plea for help, the massive dairy company decided to do what they could to help. They immediately changed the entire milk tanker schedule in the Te Rapa district to make sure that Andy got to bed at a reasonable hour. Now the family is guaranteed a pickup between the hours of 6:30 and 8 p.m. each night.
Not only that, but when one of the drivers noticed that Andy’s beloved adult tricycle was looking a bit beaten up he suggested holding a fundraiser to get him a new one. Andy’s bike is the only mode of transportation that allows him some mobility and he uses it every night to follow the tanker down the road to the barn.
The district’s drivers organized a sausage sizzle fundraiser to buy Andy a new bike. Fonterra staff from all over the world also pitched in to help, and soon a brand-new bike with a very special “Fonterra No. 1 Fan” license plate was sitting in Andy’s driveway.
Andy could not be more thrilled. And the drivers have all come to enjoy their visits as much as Andy does. “It’s not something we encounter every day, we can tell you that… It’s a special relationship,” Ken said.
What’s more, the tanker drivers have also received training in case Andy ever has a seizure during their nightly chats.
Andy has received other gifts from the drivers over the years, including Fonterra hats, shirts, and a toy tanker truck that he adores, yet there is no gift sweeter than the knowledge that his schedule will be maintained. “A big outfit like Fonterra doesn’t have to do that. They simply could’ve ignored the request but no, they came through. And we’re very grateful,” said Ken.
Watch the video below to learn more about Andy and Fonterra and be sure to share.
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