In under a month’s time, hundreds of thousands of young men and women will be taking up their places at universities all across the UK. However, it is fairly certain that none of them will have to show as much determination or patience in completing their degrees as Dawn Faizey Webster. She completed her ancient-history degree at the Open University this year. However, she had the added disadvantage of having to complete the degree while suffering from locked-in syndrome
At the age of 30, two weeks after her first son was born, Faizey Webster suffered a stroke which left her in a paralytic state in which she could not move any muscle in her body. However, she soon discovered that she could still move her eyes and had slight movement in her neck. Remarkably, thanks to technology and sheer determination, this was enough to allow her to complete her degree. Using a specially designed computer with a facial sensor, she moved a cursor through the alphabet on the screen by tilting her head from side to side and then blinking in order to select the letter she wanted to type. She has a maximum writing speed of 50 words an hour; it took her three weeks to complete each exam and six years to complete the degree.
Faizey Webster says of her condition: ‘When I first had my stroke, I realised I would not be able to do anything physical. I then decided to use the thing that had not been affected and that was my brain… No matter what obstacles were in my way, such as getting pneumonia twice and other lesser illnesses, I was determined to reach my goal.’ Showing that she hasn’t lost any of that determination and enthusiasm for life, she now plans to study for a masters in the history of art.
While locked-in syndrome remains a debilitating and devastating illness, and one many sufferers understandably struggle to come to terms with, Faizey Webster is an inspiration; proof that life doesn’t have to end when tragedy strikes.
Guy Pierce is a writer and researcher based in London.