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GRADUATIONS 2023: Mum overcomes huge family health hurdles to graduate

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Published on 12 July 2023

Wynonna Stuart and her son Wyatt
Wynonna Stuart and her son Wyatt

It was not the conventional start to university life most young students would experience - but Wynonna Stuart has overcome major challenges in the last four years to finally graduate from the University of Sunderland. 

Five-months before she had even begun her Biomedical Science degree, the 23-year-old gave birth to a baby boy, Wyatt, who has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Raising her first child and trying to juggle lectures and assignments proved a huge struggle as her only support, her mum Lynne, was sadly diagnosed with cancer twice in that crucial first year, leaving Wynonna, as her full-time carer, and feeling stressed and alone.

Her father Mark became ill in her third year with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a rare, progressive terminal illness of the respiratory system, and in addition to coping with her parents’ illnesses, Wynonna herself was trying to manage her own mental health conditions, as well as autism and ADHD. 

Despite all of these heartbreaking setbacks, Wynonna, managed to battle on through her degree, with support from her lecturers. She now hopes her own story, overcoming adversity, encourages other students to never give up their academic dreams. 

Graduating with a 2:1 at the Stadium of Light, alongside thousands of other students this week at the Summer Graduation Ceremonies, Wynonna, from Sunderland, says: “There were many instances I considered dropping out of university, but stuck through it as I am doing it all for my son, to give him better opportunities in the future. Now that I have graduated, I think the whole four years were worth it, however, very difficult!”

Thankfully Wynonna’s mum is now in remission.

Wynonna explains: “At the end of my first year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was the main person helping with my son, which meant the struggle increased and left me feeling even more stressed and alone, as well as not knowing how I would cope. This was the first time I considered dropping out of university, but I stuck through it and my mother was in remission by mid-second year.”

She added: “I chose to study at Sunderland as it was closer to home so I could raise my child at the same time, as well as it being an accredited course I was going to study which meant it would be easier for me to become a Biomedical Scientist like intended.

“I enjoyed my time at the University, I think the lecturers were really helpful and made things interesting for the students to keep engagement levels high. A specific highlight would be whenever the lecturers brought in guest speakers to tell us a bit more about their specific science sector.”

Due to her home-life circumstances, Wynonna is currently working for Newcastle Building Society as a Customer Service Advisor, as this is a work-from-home position and enables her to take care of her son, while she works. However, when she is able to access more support for Wyatt as he gets older, she plans to go back into the science sector to work, fulfill her career ambitions and utilise her degree.

Rachel Turnbull, Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Sciences at the University of Sunderland, said: “Wynonna’s achievements have been remarkable given the personal difficulties she has had to cope with during her studies. 

“Wynonna has been a diligent, hardworking student and managed to maintain excellent attendance at university to help support her academic performance. She has been upfront and engaged with her academic team throughout, as well as her clinical placement supervisor, to ensure successful completion of her degree and clinical placement training at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust, in the Cellular Pathology department. She has embraced digital innovations and new technologies to enhance her learning experience and subject knowledge, and I am sure she will go on to achieve a successful career.”

Wynonna’s advice to students in their first term is to listen to the information they’re getting from the lecturers and make sure to put in that extra time at home to study and go into the information given in more detail.