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In at the deep end

Chris Pagan

When I was nine years old, a vessel in my brain burst. It started with headaches, and ended with my cerebellum filling with blood, putting me into a coma for two weeks. When I woke up in Great Ormond Street Hospital, I’d lost speech and movement, and I suffered from double vision. They weren’t sure I’d make it through at first, but everyone had their fingers crossed.

When you have everything taken away from you, you just want some of it back, and I was prepared to work and work until I got just that.

Growing up, my condition made simple things like riding a bike difficult. I’d see three or four year olds learning quicker than I would at age ten. But I stayed determined.

As part of my recovery, I had hydrotherapy and I progressed from that – joining a swimming club, getting into their squad. I did a classification so that I could compete in the regional competitions. I did county, and then national as well. It was exciting.

That’s been my attitude to learning, too. Stay determined. Progress. People didn’t think I’d make it through a mainstream school, but I worked hard and left with 13 GCSEs. Today, I’m studying for a Business Management and Leadership degree at Anglia Ruskin University.

It was an easy decision to make ARU my first-choice university. I had spent my whole life living in Rayleigh; I have my friends and family here. The people at ARU helped as well, though. It can be really daunting walking into an Open Day all on your own, especially when I wasn’t feeling like the most confident of people. But I was welcomed with open arms. It felt pretty good.

It still does, actually. Every time I step onto campus, I get this overwhelming, spine-chilling feeling (in a good way) that I’m a part of something bigger. Isn’t that what we all want?

The challenge, for me, was always going to be my own unique approach to learning. It’s always been a bit different because of my history. At school, I had a Learning Support Officer with me at all times. I’ve had several options to support me at ARU too – including someone to take my notes in my first semester. But my ten-year old self was determined to push me harder. So in my second semester, I took my own notes and achieved near a First. It was a proud moment for me.

I’ve pretty much done that with everything else I’ve got involved in at ARU, because there’s nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end. Last year, I entered an intern programme because I’d been struggling with public speaking. Now I’m in the process of choosing my work placement for next year. That’s not only going to help me after graduation, it’s another opportunity to make something my own.

I find that my confidence has grown and grown, and it’s extended into my personal life too.

I often speak at my dad’s work, where the staff do triathlons to raise money for Great Ormond Street. My dad and I train together and take part in the events too, which surprises people! My story adds impact at these talks, but it’s been amazing to speak about other things too, like the skills and business knowledge I’ve gained at university.

My mentor at ARU, David Bell, has helped me overcome challenges I was facing. I look up to him, especially because he’s started up two or three businesses himself. But I’ve heard that he thinks I’m the inspiration. From a man I find so impressive, that makes me feel amazing.

I’ve gone from the ten-year old boy feeling like everything was taken away from him, to my second year at university. I’m living proof that no obstacle is too great, and I would say to anyone who’s working to overcome barriers: Don’t give in. Don’t let anything hold you back. I’ve learnt that you need to find out what it is you want from life and put in the time, effort and hard work to make it happen.

Anything is possible with resolve.


Chris Pagan studies BSc (Hons) Business Management and Leadership at Anglia Ruskin University, within Lord Ashcroft International Business School.