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Inspirational Michaela Hollywood helps switch on the Downing Street lights

By Rebecca Black

Published 12/12/2015

Michaela Hollywood joined PM David Cameron and others as the Downing Street Christmas tree lights were switched on
Michaela Hollywood joined PM David Cameron and others as the Downing Street Christmas tree lights were switched on
Michaela Hollywood

A young Northern Ireland woman had a unique Christmas experience when she helped the Prime Minister switch on the lights at 10 Downing Street. But this is no ordinary young woman.

Michaela Hollywood (25), from Crossgar, is living with spinal muscular atrophy - a condition that killed her sister - yet has already packed more into her life than most would ever dream of.

On top of completing a marathon around Belfast, raising £5,000 for Muscular Dystrophy UK, receiving a Point of Light Award from David Cameron, chairing an all-party group at Stormont, being named by the BBC as one of the world's most inspirational women and helping switch on the Downing Street Christmas lights, she will be graduating with a Masters degree from the Ulster University next week.

All this is even more remarkable because of the number of other health problems that Michaela, who has to use a wheelchair, has battled.

"I've added up that, over the four years I've been at Ulster University, I've had hospital treatment around 21 times," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"That has included chest infections, which left me requiring oxygen on top of my life support machine I use regularly, to an anaphylactic shock that almost killed me in my first year.

"I had bacteria in my bloodstream, which meant I had sepsis for at least six months as we missed it at first. Sepsis kills 37,000 people a year.

"To cure this I had to have surgery while awake, as being put to sleep for it was too risky."

Michaela (left) also suffered a broken leg, which meant she could not type for eight weeks because she could not sit up or balance with the cast on her leg while she was under pressure to complete her dissertation.

"All this is on top of what I refer to as my normal medical needs, which include being fed via a drip, using a life support machine and a coughing machine, and requiring help with everything other than speaking and thinking due to my spinal muscular atrophy," she said.

"I was also born with no ears and I am deaf.

"I worked during my hospital treatment, but without the incredible help from my lecture team I would not have been able to complete both my undergrad and postgrad on time.

"I'm indebted to them and to my PA/note-taker Connie, who was provided to me by the university and disabled student allowance."

Michaela will graduate next week with an MSc in communication and public relations. She has already secured a job as campaigns officer with the charity Trailblazers, which she will start in the new year.

"I hope to continue campaigning and fundraising and plan to return for a PhD at some point, as I've thoroughly enjoyed academic life at Ulster University," Michaela said.

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