After 12-year nightmare Enniskillen’s Michelle is making up for lost time

Michelle Cowan

Joan Major with Michelle Cowan and Michelle’s recent award

AT THE age of 15 Michelle Cowan lost her memory following a horrific diagnosis which would see her bed-bound for the next 12 years.

From birthdays, friends, family and her education, the Enniskillen girl’s life was wiped from her mind.


After Michelle was diagnosed with severe ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), she spent the best part of her young life being fed through a tube, unable to smell or swallow. However, the inspirational woman, now aged 31, decided to go back to education and rebuild her lost life.

With the help of her family and carers, Michelle began to start her life from scratch and over the last two years has overcome many adversities to reach what she would have once deemed the unachievable.

Despite the loss of her sight and movement in her hands and legs, Michelle enrolled on an Essential Skills course in literacy and numeracy, and it wasn’t long before carers discovered her potential.

Never one to give up, Michelle had her sights set on qualifying and in the beginning enjoyed simple pleasures like travelling to the course on her own.

As well as building a wealth of qualifications, Michelle was recently crowned learner of the year at the annual Essential Skills Awards at a ceremony in County Antrim.

She explained her excitement at winning the award, but admitted she was overcome with shock as they announced her name.

“I was a nervous wreck when they called my name,” she commented.


“When I started the course, with the help of the Cedar Foundation, I was not sure how it was going to go but Joan Major (tutor) realised my potential and advised me to keep going.

“It’s a course which runs for 15 weeks and I would learn to write letters to the editor and would have to give a power-point presentation. By the end of it all I should have three A-Levels and three GCSEs.

“I basically started from scratch. I can’t remember anything from the age of 15 but I can remember everything that happened during my illness. I forgot my friends overnight.

“If it wasn’t for my Mum, Dad and brother David, I wouldn’t have got through it. And now I want to get back everything I lost.”

Following her diagnosis, Michelle’s Mum Ivy retired to care for her only daughter full time and adapted their home to cater for the then teenager’s needs.

Revealing a sense of how difficult life became, Michelle described the unbearable pain she suffered during her teen years.

“I couldn’t swallow or smell or stand any kind of noise. If a tractor went past every part of my body would be effected.

“My vision is very bad and I can’t use my hands and I am still very dependent on others. It’s been tough to get back as it was scary to leave the house after so long.

“But I am looking forward to the summer ahead and I love music and listening to audio books and playing bingo.”

Michelle wishes to thank her family, Joan Major, Hazel Spear and her carers at Drumcoo Centre and South West College.

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