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Student overcomes life-changing health setbacks to secure Master’s

A Swansea University student who battled back from losing his sight and undergoing a kidney transplant is celebrating after graduating with a master’s degree.

Giles Turnbull – who has had diabetes from his early teens - was registered blind in 2008 as a result of diabetic retinopathy.

He then endured a kidney transplant five years later but returned to education to pursue a master’s in creative writing and continue his passion for poetry.

Giles, however, is no stranger to Swansea University with the 46-year-old previously completing his undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University between 1991 and 1994.

“I was the first person in my family to go to university,” he said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career back then, but after graduating in 1994 I worked for the DVLA before moving to London and working for the Department for Transport.”

After a period in the capital, Giles moved to Bristol –where he first started to notice changes back in 2004.

“The sight in my left eye failed first,” he said. “At that time I could still see well enough to drive but I could fall down stairs and kerbs because I didn’t realise there was a drop.

“I then met a girl in America and moved to Atlanta to be with her but unfortunately my right eye followed suit and by 2008 I was legally blind.

“You learn to listen to things and pay attention to the textures you’re feeling with your fingertips or beneath your feet.

“The Department of Labor referred me for a year of vision rehab training, where I learned how to use a white cane, how to label things and read braille. That was fantastic.”

But that wasn’t where Giles’s problems ended - in 2012 he was placed on dialysis in the US before returning home to the UK and having a kidney transplant a year later.

However, he was determined to explore his love of writing and poetry and returned to his beloved Swansea University to begin his master’s.

“Poetry has always been a passion of mine,” said Giles, who is originally from Harrogate. “I started writing during my A-levels because I liked this girl, but I was writing about the fact that she didn’t fancy me!

“Writing lets me explore the memories that I remember when I was sighted, and I thought that coming back to university would allow me to try my hand at other forms of writing.”

He added: “Swansea University’s Transcription Centre has been vital to my success this time around. All of the books that I’ve needed were produced in electronic format so that my computer could read them aloud for me.

“The disability office has also been careful to make sure I’m aware of any changes or work that is going on around campus in terms of accessibility and walking with my cane.”

Having gone full circle at the University as both an undergraduate and now postgraduate student, Giles is looking forward to what the future holds.

And he has a powerful message to anyone else who might be thinking of starting or returning to university whatever their disability might be.

“I came back to re-build my confidence,” said Giles. “Being back on a campus where I had so many fond memories as a sighted student, has been absolutely wonderful.

“It is not easy, and everyone’s level of independence varies when you are blind. Some people may be very confident in getting around, but then there are others like me, who have lost their sight in middle age, who might struggle.

“I think the important thing is not being afraid to ask for help. There is so much help out there and you can make so much more of your life if you just ask.”

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