‘Battling back after three-year illness gap’ | Yorkshire Post | 16 August 2013

From the Yorkshire Post, 16 August 2013.

A STUDENT who had to leave school when she was just 12 with a life-threatening illness is celebrating earning a place at a top university.

Sarah Firth, now 19, from Sheffield, missed three years of school after falling ill with pneumonia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Suffering from breathing difficulties and extreme exhaustion, Sarah studied at home through the hospital home education service until she was 16, and managed to gain three GCSEs in art, English and maths.

Despite not having the qualifications usually necessary for A-level study, Hillsborough College accepted her three years ago, and she has now gained the A-level grades to go on to study maths at Sheffield University.

Miss Firth, who gained an A* in business studies, an A in maths and a B in physics yesterday, said: “I didn’t have any energy, because my adrenal glands had shut down.

“Despite being of a small build, I felt like I was carrying so much weight around with me. It was very challenging – if I went out for the day, I had to rest for hours.”

She said that it was thanks to the support of both the home education service and Hillsborough College that she had gained such impressive A-level grades.

“It was frustrating just being able to study for three GCSEs at home but that service was an absolute lifeline. When I applied to go to college I was worried about whether I’d be offered a place.

The college took my circumstances into account and I have studied my A-levels there for three years rather than two, so that I could gradually build things up My health has improved, and there’s lots of options for me in the future with a maths degree”, she said.

“I feel really good now. I’m still under the care of the chest clinic at the Northern General Hospital and I can’t be as active as I’d like, but it doesn’t really affect me day-to-day. My parents have been really supportive, they’ve always believed I had the potential and have helped me through my illnesses.”

Teenage mother Melanie Lawson was also among those celebrating at Hillsborough College in Sheffield yesterday.

The 19-year-old sat her GCSE exams at Firth Park Community Arts College three years ago while heavily pregnant with her son, Benjamin. She then took a year out, but returned to education a year later and has now gained the grades required to study geography at Liverpool University.

She said: “The college has been really supportive, letting me have later deadlines and also giving me extra work if I’m falling behind.”

She has now moved to Liverpool with Benjamin and his father, Alex Packer, and will be starting a full-time undergraduate degree next month.

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