FEEL GOOD | Meet the woman who survived 4 heart surgeries and just graduated with an honours degree

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At the start of her honours year, 22-year-old Laura-Anne Hunter underwent heart surgery shortly before Covid was discovered. Photo supplied by Laura-Anne Hunter
At the start of her honours year, 22-year-old Laura-Anne Hunter underwent heart surgery shortly before Covid was discovered. Photo supplied by Laura-Anne Hunter
  • It's graduation season, and Laura-Anne Hunter is one graduate who recently received her post-graduate degree from Wits University.
  • At the start of her honours year, the 22-year-old underwent heart surgery shortly before Covid was discovered.
  • She survived the 6-month recovery period, which made this her fourth successful heart surgery following three operations she had at an early age.
  • The graduate is excited about her achievement and praises her parents for their support throughout her studies.

While many people aspire to attain some tertiary qualifications, it's no secret that the journey to the graduation hall differs for everyone.

But almost certainly, any graduate has a story to share about the uphill battle to finally wearing an academic gown.

For Laura-Anne Hunter, however, the process was far more challenging than it's been for most, as she not only had to study as hard as most other students, she had to overcome serious health complications. 

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To date, the 22 -year-old who was born in Cape Town and raised in Johannesburg has come out strong after undergoing four heart surgeries from a very early age.

Currently a copywriter, Laura recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Wits University.

graduation, wits, heart surgery, covid

Laura with her mom Colleen on her graduation day. All photos supplied by Laura-Anne Hunter

Laura has a condition known as Pulmonary Atresia and had three heart surgeries before she turned three, and in December 2019, she went in for her fourth operation in Cape Town. 

"The surgery went well. However, I got pneumonia and some minor complications and ended up staying in the ICU for a month," says Laura.

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Two weeks after flying home, she started her honours course, and about six weeks later, the reports of Covid in the country surfaced, and she feared contracting it.

"At the time, I could barely lie down, drive nor pick up a full kettle due to the chest pain and stitches. The fear was that I could get Covid with a very weak immune system while I was still in recovery (an estimated recovery of 6 months)," says Laura.

graduation, wits, heart surgery, covid

"At the very start of my studies, I was exhausted from the wear and tear of heavy medication, but the lockdown actually did me a favour by forcing me to stay home and recover fully."

One of the things that caused some fear was knowing that her life was is in the hands of people she didn't know. Despite this, Laura remained positive and says the support she received from her family helped her stay focused.

"Although I was self-motivated throughout my studies, the support I received from my parents (my mom, in particular) was what inspired me to keep studying," she says.

graduation, wits, heart surgery, covid

READ MORE | 'I completed my degree in China amid Covid-19' - graduate who spent 3 months alone in lockdown

Now Laura is enjoying the fruits of her perseverance, despite her serious health condition.

She's delighted with her achievement but says she was calm when she went on stage to receive her degree recently.

"I felt calm and collected as I crossed the stage because I knew this moment would eventually come. My mom, Colleen, was in the second row and waved at me when I passed her - a moment neither of us will forget," says the new graduate.

"The entire experience was amazing - you could feel the positive emotions from everybody there, from excited graduates to proud parents."

graduation, wits, heart surgery, covid

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To people in a similar situation, she says, "The only encouragement I could give somebody in a similar health position as I was at the time is to remain calm, reach out for support and look at the end goal. Mine was getting the degree, and nothing was going to stop me. I also now completely understand the saying 'Health is wealth'!"

graduation, wits, heart surgery, covid

Laura is aspiring to be a publisher and says she decided to study journalism and media studies as a pathway into publishing.

Her next education step is to get her master's in publishing next year as a way to validate her love for literature. 

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