At 23-years-old, University of Bradford graduate Zeeshan Hussain has already overcome more struggles in life than most.
Three years ago, just two months after enrolling on a BEng software engineering degree, he began experiencing a series of debilitating symptoms such as blurred vision and loss of motor function.
While he waited for a diagnosis, he still managed to complete coursework and even sat exams in January 2019, but just over a month later he was given the devastating news that he had contracted an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The news could not have come at a worse time, because it was the same month that the Covid lockdowns were imposed, meaning that for the next 18 months, Zeeshan spent most of his time alone in his bedroom.
In the coming weeks and months, as his condition worsened, he lost both his ability to walk and his vision, added to which he had the mental anguish of coping with the life-changing condition as the nation grappled with Covid.
And yet he soldiered on, working on his degree between countless hospital visits and relapses.
As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, part-way into his studies, he lost his grandfather to Covid, and a long-term relationship with his wife-to-be ended.
Fast-forward three years and Zeeshan has graduated with first-class honours, and has been nominated for a Young Asian of the Year Award.
While he has since regained some of his vision and is able to walk again – he was able to collect his degree in person during a recent graduation ceremony – his battles are far from over.
He said: “The first time I noticed something wasn’t right was when my vision went blurry and my legs started to shake.
“I started my degree in September 2019 and my symptoms began in November. I still didn’t have a diagnosis, so I just had to push through. It was a real struggle to complete coursework and sit exams in January.
“I was diagnosed in March, which is the same month that Covid hit.
“That’s around the time I lost my vision. From March to October the following year, I was unable to do anything. My grandad came to visit me in hospital and then two months later, he died from Covid. It was a very tough time mentally.
Zeeshan, who lives in Pudsey with his mother and two younger brothers, had already experienced intense grief in his early life, after his father died (aged just 40) when he was 13. Now he was faced with another life-altering moment.
“Just after I got the diagnosis, that was my worst time.
“There was a day when I just didn’t want to be here any more, but part of the reason I carried on is my religion. I’m a Muslim and we believe all tests come from god, so If this is my test, then I have to overcome it, and so I carried on.”
He still suffers frequent relapses, where he loses motor function, and he has also been diagnosed with optic neuritis (where swelling damages the nerves) in both eyes, and doctors say his condition will only get worse.
But he remains resilient, and hopeful. For his final year project, he designed an android fitness app to monitor calorie intake and track BMI, along with other data, and he now trains six days a week in the gym.
“Before the diagnosis, I was very active – I used to box, play football and go to the gym – and had a very busy social life.
“I went from that to, basically, being inactive, and staying inside and not seeing anyone, so it was very demoralising. But even during that time, I was trying to do what I could. I would do press-ups in my room.
“Now, I train in the gym six days a week. My condition is incurable but the goal is to slow down the relapses.”
Thanks to Zeeshan’s ‘never give up’ attitude – and support from the university – he graduated with a first in July, and is now looking forward to a break before he begins a new bout of treatment, after which he says he intends to look for work, either as a data analyst or software engineer.
He added: “My view is that everyone has struggles in life, so I don’t think I’m that special really. If I can show others that life problems can be overcome, then I will be happy. If you just take things one step at a time, one day at a time, you can achieve anything.”
During his time at the University Zeeshan was supported by colleagues on his programme team and by individuals from across student services to ensure that support was put in place that enabled him to continue with his studies and, ultimately, succeed.
Apostol Vourdas, Head of Department of Computer Science, said: “Zeeshan is a great inspiration for all of us.
“Despite many health and other problems, he graduated with a first class degree. His strength of character and ‘never give up’ attitude is a great lesson for all of us. We are very proud to have students like Zeeshan.”