(Used with kind permission of the County Derry Post )
A County Derry woman, who qualified as a nurse despite undergoing major surgery during her degree, has been nominated for a prestigious award.
Aneica Duffy has been named as a finalist in the Student of the Year category of the NI Health and Social Care Awards.
The awards recognise and celebrate the hard work and dediction of staff across the private, public, independent and voluntary health and social care sector.
For 27 year-old Aneica however, the nomination came as a massive surprise and she only became aware of the news when she received a notification on social media on Wednesday night.
“Two lecturers from Queens University put me forward for the award but I didn't know any of this until it came up on Twitter.
“I was lying in bed when the wee notification came up on my phone at half ten at night and it said I had been mentioned in a Tweet. I was thinking 'what is this for'. When I read it I couldn't believe it. I couldn't get to sleep that night,” laughed the Foreglen woman.
The last 11 years have been particularly tough for Aneica, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease – a life-long illness that causes inflammation in the gut – when she was just 16.
While studying for her GCSEs at St Patrick's College, Maghera, Aneica began to experience stomach pain and fatigue.
“I was so tired, my bloods were off, I kept running to the toilet and I lost a lot of weight. I knew something wasn't right,” said Aneica, who has underwent four major surgeries since being diagnosed with the condition.
As medication did not help Aneica, she had to have surgery when she was 19 and again at 21, which involved having part of her bowel removed and a stoma fitted.
Despite numerous setbacks, Aneica did not let her condition hold her back and she was determined to finish her A-levels before going on to pursue her studies in North West Regional College.
“Because I was sick I didn't really get the best results in my A-levels so I went on to Tech to do a course and that's what led me into the nursing,” explained Aneica, who plays camogie for Banagher.
“Since I got sick and with all the surgeries I have had to go through I just thought I would give something back and pursue a career in nursing.”
Since commencing her nursing degree at Queens, Aneica says her tutors have offered her great support, particularly when she went through major surgery in the third year of her course.
Aneica, who was determined not to fall behind in her studies, managed to keep up with online classes from her hospital bed.
“I had just started third year and I ended up in hospital having to go through surgery. I just kept trying to do as much as I could,” she said.
“After surgery, it takes 12 weeks to recover but, thankfully, I was able to do a lot of the work online from home. There was days I didn't want to get out of bed, I was so tired and sore but my end goal was always to get finished this year, no matter what.”
Aneica is due to start her new staff nurse post at Altnagelvin Hospital at the beginning of April and she has hopes of one day specialising in stoma care.
“When I was first told I would need surgery I didn't know very much about the condition,” continued Aneica, who also publishes an online blog to raise awareness of Crohn's disease.
“At that time I went to see a wee older woman who had it and talk to her about it as I didn't know of anyone around my age who had it. I would like to go specialise in stoma care some day because I think I would be able to relate to the patients.”
With the awards ceremony due to take place on April 28, Anecia says she is looking forward to it however she has a more important ceremony to attend first – her own wedding.
Speaking about next month's awards, the bride-to-be, who is set to wed fiance James on Saturday, said: “I just wanted to go into Queens and do my degree to be a nurse. I didn't think that all these opportunities would come up, especially this.
“Being nominated is one thing, being a finalist is another but if I did win it, it really would be unreal.
“Although I just have to think how far I have come. This time last year I was not good at all,” she added.