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Woman with locked-in syndrome earns degree by blinking through exams

ITV News Midlands Reporter Ben Chapman reports

A woman has earned a degree in Ancient History despite having locked-in syndrome.

It took Dawn Faizey-Webster three weeks to complete her exams as she had to blink to communicate her answers.

Dawn, 42, has locked-in syndrome which means she can see, think, hear and feel normally but remains unable to move or talk, apart from slight movements of her head and her eye lids.

Dawn Faizey-Webster, who has locked in syndrome, at her work station at home. Credit: SWNS

She was left unable to walk or talk two weeks after her son Alexander was born in June 2003, when she was aged just 30.

However the former teacher discovered she could still communicate through her eyes and tiny head movements.

Now Dawn has written an autobiography and achieved a 2:2 degree in Ancient History using a specialised laptop that translates her eye movements into text.

When I passed my degree, I was so pleased and proud of myself.

I had achieved my goal that I had for six years been striving for and no matter what obstacles were in my way, such as getting pneumonia twice and other lesser illnesses, I was determined to reach my goal.

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.

I felt I needed to prove to myself and to others that I was still me, Dawn.

[My computer] is my lifeline. Never did I imagine when I got pregnant with Alexander that my life would turn out like this.

– Dawn Faizey-Webster
Dawn uses a computer which translates her eye movements into text. Credit: SWNS

Living at her parents home in Rugeley, Staffordshire, she started her degree in 2008, determined not to be beaten by her condition.

Finishing the Open University qualification was not easy as Dawn's fastest writing pace of 50 words per hour has meant that each three hour exam took her three weeks to complete.

Dawn worked three-hours a day on the degree, nudging buttons either side of her head to move the curser on the screen and blinking to register the letters.

Now she has completed the course with honours and is now hoping to tackle a Masters in History of Art as a follow up.

Dawn's living nightmare started when she was rushed to hospital at 26-weeks pregnant and was diagnosed with potentially fatal pre-eclampsia.

She deteriorated over six days until her tiny baby had to be delivered by emergency cesarean weighing just 1lb 8oz.

Dawn with baby Alexander. Credit: SWNS

A week later Dawn returned home still suffering high blood pressure, but was told she would be fine.

But after another week, Dawn woke in the night feeling dizzy and slurring her words.

Over the following week, Dawn drifted in and out of consciousness but was unable to move or talk. Her condition got so bad her eye muscles even were paralysed.

She listened, motionless, while her family discussed her condition and doctors told her husband to prepare for the worst.

A breakthrough came when she was finally able to blink, and let her father Alec know she was still inside her broken body.

She was then fitted with the laptop that allowed her to communicate.

Dawn with her parents and full time carers, Alec and Shirley. Credit: SWNS

It's amazing she has managed to do this considering her condition. We are so proud of her. She worked so hard to get there.

Before her stroke she used to love travelling. Egypt was one of her favourite places to visit because of her love of history.

She is graduating in October up in Manchester, it's going to be such a proud moment for us all.

– Alec, Dawn's father