Inspirational father spurs Fermanagh student Emma on to academic success

Emma Reilly, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, who graduates today with a BSc in Nursing celebrates with her dad Michael. Emma has balanced her studies with caring for her dad, who had a heart attack in 2010. Emma credits her dad with  inspiring her to become a nurse and she has already secured a job at Craigavon Area Hospital. Phot/Paul McErlane

Emma Reilly, from Enniskillen, celebrates with her dad Michael. Photo/Paul McErlane

AN ENNISKILLEN student has balanced the long hours, financial difficulties and care of her sick father to graduate with a 2:1 degree in Adult Nursing (BSc Nursing Science) from Queen’s University.

Emma Reilly, a former student of Mount Lourdes Grammar School celebrated last week, as she along with thousands others enjoyed their graduation.


It could have been all so different for Emma, however, who in 2007 graduated from Queen’s University with a BA Modern History and Politics.

In May 2010 her life changed when her 47-year-old father Michael took a heart attack at work. He suffered a Hypoxic Brain Injury resulting in challenging behaviour, short term memory loss and reduced mobility. He was in hospital for 13 months in total before he finally came home in July 2011 reliant on a zimmer frame indoors and a wheelchair outside.

“There were times in the early days where we didn’t think he would survive or if he did he would be left in vegetative state not knowing who we were,” explained Emma. His illness meant that the Reilly family took on the care, but Emma made a life-changing decision in February 2012 to go back to university.

“As a family we shared the caring responsibility. My Mum Jacqueline is Dad’s main carer. I travelled from Belfast to Enniskillen to look after Dad every week and sometimes daily. It was difficult especially as to afford to study I was working part time as a healthcare assistant, often clocking up 70 hours a week between part time work and contracted placement hours with the university. I wasn’t entitled to any financial assistance apart from my £500 NHS Bursary a month.”

She continued: “It was difficult. Unlike most other undergraduates I had a lot more stress to deal with on a daily basis. When I was away from home for periods I felt guilty for not being at home. When I was at home I felt I wasn’t doing enough for university. It was particularly hard looking after patients with the same injury as Dad, some who didn’t survive at all. Those were bad days emotionally. On the other hand I often used his story to families of loved ones to give them hope of a good outcome.”

Over five years on and Emma’s father has made a remarkable recovery.

“Considering what he has come through he is amazing. He has good and bad days and struggles with the fact he will never work or lead an independent life again but he is an inspiration.


“I have looked after patients with the same injury as him, but with a lot less quality of life.”

She added: “On a daily basis Dad inspired me. He taught me never to give up, always do my best and how determination and self-belief can help you achieve your goals. When we take him for review appointments the medical team who looked after him are always amazed at his progress. His attitude to life is very inspiring, not just to me but to everyone he meets.”

Emma currently works in emergency surgery in Craigavon Area Hospital, but is  moving to the haematology unit at Belfast City Hospital on August 3, for what she describes as her “dream job”

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