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News Story:

High-flier graduates against all the odds


A student who was advised by doctors to stop attending lectures because of her severe allergic reaction to more than a dozen common substances has graduated with first class honours.

Harriet Moonesinghe, 22, was in her second year of a psychology degree at the University of Portsmouth when she had a serious allergic reaction during one of her lectures.

She never found out what substance caused the reaction, but it was severe enough to mean she had a prolonged stay in hospital and was advised to not return to the lecture halls because of the serious risk to her health.

Harriet, who has suffered from allergies six years old, is allergic to nuts, mustard seeds, lupin, soya, tomatoes, kiwi, banana, honey, and orange-coloured tropical fruits. She is also allergic to sulphites and nitrates (used in countless everyday food and drink products including some packaging), trimethroprim, septrim and cyclixine (widely used in medicines), latex and exercise-induced anaphylaxis.

After Harriet’s doctors advised her to stay away from lectures, the University started recording  lectures and posting them to her, but Harriet found this isolating so her department set up video conferencing - first via Skype, then Google Plus - so she could take part in lectures in real-time. But this was prone to technical problems and worked with varying degrees of success.

However, despite the isolation and struggle to obtain the same information and resources as her classmates, she was determined to carry on.

Her thesis supervisor, Dr Clare Wilson, said that Harriet was one of the most highly motivated students she knows. She said:  "Harriet has been incredibly strong and persevered when many would have just used it as an excuse not to work or simply given up.

"Harriet was determined not to passively wait for pre-recorded lectures to arrive on her doorstep but took steps to access as much information as she could online.  She effectively became a ‘long distance’ learning student on a course that is not designed for this.  This represents an amazing resilience to continue despite everything.”

Harriet hopes to become a chartered psychologist but given her own experiences, also has a strong interest in researching allergies and is considering doing a PhD in the subject.

She said: "Pushing myself to carry on through my first degree was tough – especially with the time it takes to recover after a serious reaction.  It required a great deal of self motivation.  But I’m delighted with my first class honours and will certainly be attending my graduation ceremony.”