Determination pays dividends for resilient Rachel

Published: March 14, 2017

Photo of 	Rachel Ferguson with Tracy Leah at TCATWhen it comes to triumph over adversity, Shropshire teenager Rachel Ferguson ticks all of the boxes.

The 19-year-old, from Bridgnorth, has a rare condition which affects her mobility and speech – but that hasn’t stopped her graduating from college, and landing her first paid job.

Rachel won over staff and students at Telford College of Arts and Technology with a determination to succeed on her BTEC Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care.

And she has now secured a part-time job as a church website administrator, working with the Bridgnorth and Morville Parishes Team Ministry.

Her mother Joy said: “We now have a website administrator in the family! Hopefully this is just the start of an exciting new chapter in her life – I’m so proud of my daughter for landing her first paid job.”

Rachel has complex issues due to a condition called Ataxia Telangiectasia or, as she describes it: “AT . . . because that’s a bit of a mouthful!”

It has affected her mobility, speech and fine motor skills, and she has to use an electric wheelchair to get around.

Rachel initially came to TCAT in September 2013 to study the Subsidiary Diploma in Health and Social Care, equivalent to one A Level. But at the end of the two-year course, she wanted to stay on because she enjoyed it – and ended up at TCAT for three years.

“When I started college, the staff centred the whole course around me,” explained Rachel, whose determination saw her nominated for the Principal’s Special Award last year.

“They put me in a normal group of students, gave me a reduced timetable, let me have study time after lunch to get on with any work I had, and allowed me to go home at 3pm.

“Although I completed the course and it was partly down to my efforts, it was mostly down to the tutors teaching me and helping me with my assignments. As well as helping me, they also became my friends – without them all I couldn’t have completed the course.”

Photo of Rachel talking to TCAT students about her condition

Rachel talks to TCAT students about her condition

Tracy Leah, quality co-ordinator and lecturer in health at TCAT, said: “Each year, Rachel completed a presentation for her peers about her condition, and spoke candidly about the fact that she knows her condition is progressive and will cause her health to deteriorate.

“She was received with warmth and respect, and all those who taught her could not help but smile at the wicked twinkle she had in her eye at times.

“She has an amazing sense of humour, and all who meet her quickly become her friends. Even on days when Rachel was clearly not feeling well, she came to college and worked hard.”

Tracy added: “During her time with us, Rachel went on a trip to Disneyland Paris, which turned out to be very eventful. The wrong bus turned up without a wheelchair lift, so Rachel told us to ‘manhandle her up the steps’, which we obligingly did.

“She taught some of our students about dealing with adversity, and when the aforementioned bus broke down in the Channel Tunnel, Rachel kept smiling whilst others around her became upset.”

Rachel also completed several placements as part of her course, the same as all other students in her cohort, and was determined to be like all the other health students, in spite of her health issues.

Tracy said: “Rachel has been an inspiration to staff and students alike; and although we miss her, we wish her luck on the next step of her journey.”