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Disability is no barrier, says top academic

PhD student Jonathan Gilmour who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy with his assistance dog Uri and fund raiser Albertyna Paciorek in the court yard of St John's college at the University of Cambridge.
Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

PhD student Jonathan Gilmour who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy with his assistance dog Uri and fund raiser Albertyna Paciorek in the court yard of St John's college at the University of Cambridge. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

A PhD student from Hampshire diagnosed with a debilitating condition at the age of seven said “disability is no barrier” as he looks to inspire others to overcome adversity.

Jonathan Gilmour has Duchenne muscular dystrophy - an incurable and terminal condition which means he needs a full-time carer and has limited use of his arm.

He requires help with basic tasks like dressing and eating and has used a wheelchair since he was 14.

Despite his difficulties, Mr Gilmour has become an “exceptional academic” at the University of Cambridge and hopes to use his experience at one of the world’s top universities to help others with disabilities to make the most of their lives.

The 27-year-old, originally from Petersfield, said: “We’re trying to demonstrate the potential of what can be achieved by people with a disability.

“Disability can seem like a permanent barrier, but it doesn’t have to be.

“I’ve always disliked it when people talk about me being a sufferer - of course it’s frustrating, but it shouldn’t stop you from being able to act positively.”

Mr Gilmour graduated with a first-class degree in theology in 2008.

He is now studying for a PhD in inter-faith relations and has won the university’s prestigious theological studies prize on two occasions.

Along with fellow students at St John’s College, he has launched a fundraising drive to support the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

He said that as a teenager, he had never considered applying to Cambridge but his mother Angela persuaded him to try after he achieved outstanding GCSE results.

He realised this ambition despite undergoing spinal fusion surgery which left him in intensive care for 10 days around the time of his A-levels.

“I didn’t think I had a chance, but she encouraged me,” he added.

When he arrived at Cambridge in 2005, he was given specially-adapted accommodation but tried to live a full student-life.

Mr Gilmour said: “I was in a chair, but I was more physically mobile than I am now.

“I used to be able to go out at night a lot more, so the experience at the time was really like that of any other student.

“I was a bit stronger in those days, but you learn to change your lifestyle as things develop.”

Mr Gilmour, who lives with a carer and his assistance dog, a black Labrador called Uri, won the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s young person of the year award for 2010/11.

He got the idea for a fundraising drive from friend Albertyna Paciorek, a former St John’s linguistics student.

She raised £1,600 for the charity by running the London Marathon.

“Jonathan’s experience has made me realise the big difference that even small steps towards treating muscular dystrophy, or improving the lives of people who have the condition, can make,” she said.

The pair will launch a series of fundraising events for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, with a comedy night at Cambridge Footlights on Friday.

“It’s a life-limiting condition, but living with it is about making the most of things,” Mr Gilmour said.

“We hope that our efforts will support the campaign’s work to maintain the quality of life of other people who have muscular dystrophy, in the same way that they have helped me.

“One day, a cure will come. Until then, we need to help them to get by.”

Donations can be made at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AlbertynaJonathanLM14.

 

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