For students all over, this September may mark one of life’s biggest achievements and spark deserved celebrations across the United Kingdom. For one woman, however, the road to achieving her degree has been remarkably different. Maintaining an average of 50 words per hour and having to complete her exams over a challenging three-week period, Dawn Faizey-Webster has achieved the extraordinary and earned a degree, using only her ability to blink.
The 42 year old, from Rugeley, Staffordshire, has locked-in syndrome, which means she can see, think, hear and feel normally and may only use slight movements of her head and her eyelids to communicate. Her determination, motivation and self-belief have helped her see through a six-year Open University Ancient History course, which she recently passed with a 2:2 degree.
Speaking about her recent achievement, Dawn said: “When I passed my degree, I was so pleased and proud of myself. I had achieved my goal that I had, for six years, been striving for. Regardless of obstacles in my way, such as getting pneumonia twice and other medical conditions, I was determined to reach my goal. After my stroke, I decided to use the one thing I had left, my brain. I felt I needed to prove to myself and to others that I was still me, Dawn.”
Dawn was left with locked-in syndrome after her stroke in 2003, two weeks after her son Alexander was born. She gave birth via an emergency caesarian section, after contracting pre-eclampsia; a condition affecting pregnant women with high blood pressure. She was sent home with her blood pressure still high and two weeks later she experienced a stroke.
Although it may take up to four years, before aware and sensitive patients are recognized as being conscious, Dawn was diagnosed with locked in syndrome a few months down the line. Her significant breakthrough came through her sudden ability to blink. She communicated to her dad, Alec, who had been at her bedside the entire time, as he noticed her moving eyelids. In both wonder and joy, father Alec soon passed the message onto doctors; who set up Dawn with a laptop, allowing her to communicate.
Five years later and making amazing progress with her ability to use the technology, she decided to start a new challenge in life and begin a degree. With three-hour exams taking her an average of three weeks, it was a big challenge for the former teacher. She worked three-hours a day on the degree, nudging buttons either side of her head to move the cursor on the screen and blinking to register the letters. Dawn is now hoping to take on a Masters in History of Art.
Dawn’s father, Alec, who is her full-time carer along with wife Shirley, said: “It’s amazing she has managed to do this, considering her condition. We are so proud of her. She worked so hard to get there. She is graduating in October up in Manchester, it’s going to be such a proud moment for us all.”
What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in life?