Lisburn mum of three graduates with PhD after overcoming stroke caused by Covid-19

Dr Monica McCard has graduated with a PhD from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast.
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Monica, from Lisburn and aged 46, is mum to three boys, Nathan, Callum and Matthew.

In 2022, Monica suffered a stroke after contracting Covid-19. This required her to have rehabilitation therapy to regain her speech and to be able to walk again.

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“In February 2022, I contracted Covid-19, and my battle with the virus extended over 10 challenging days,” she explained. “Despite persistent symptoms, including an unrelenting headache, I continued working online.

Pictured at the Queen's University graduation ceremony are Callum, Matthew, Monica McCard, Colin and Nathan. Pic credit: QUBPictured at the Queen's University graduation ceremony are Callum, Matthew, Monica McCard, Colin and Nathan. Pic credit: QUB
Pictured at the Queen's University graduation ceremony are Callum, Matthew, Monica McCard, Colin and Nathan. Pic credit: QUB

“However, during a virtual work meeting, others noticed that my speech was becoming incoherent, and I attributed it to the stress of dealing with Covid-19. Later that day, while attempting to drink tea, I found myself unable to hold the cup, and a weakness on one side of my body became apparent. Although concerned, I dismissed these signs, hoping a good night's sleep would resolve them.

“The following day, my condition worsened, and when I couldn't walk unaided, I sought medical advice.

"In a disconcerting turn of events, I was admitted to the hospital, where, after a few days, it became apparent that my balance and speech were deteriorating.

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"An MRI revealed four brain infarcts at the back of my brain, leaving me utterly shocked. Isolated in a Covid ward without family support, fear gripped me during my two-week hospital stay.”

Despite these life-changing health challenges, Monica remained strong and continued to teach at South-Eastern Regional College (SERC) and study for her PhD in the field of biological sciences, which has always been her dream.

"I have always had a passion for marine life,” she continued. “From a young age, I only ever wanted to work on the shore.

"I loved being anywhere around the beach and was fascinated with marine life.

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"I went back to university later in life and as such had to decide on what I wanted to study; it was an easy choice; marine biology was all I ever wanted.”

During her time at Queen’s, Monica was instrumental in empowering young people.

In 2018, she initiated the inaugural Queen’s Marine Lab Explorers Outreach Programme which enables young people from across Ireland to gain skills and experience to become an ecologist. Speaking about the success of the programme, Monica said: “One of my proudest memories is witnessing the program's enthusiastic reception by local schools and children who had always aspired to pursue these fields but doubted their ability to do so. Even my youngest son and nieces participated in the course, with my eldest son serving as a lead volunteer.”

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After successfully completing her PhD earlier this year, Monica secured a coveted role as a lecturer in Environmental Science at Liverpool John Moores University, relocating her family there.

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“My life has undergone profound changes, and landing this job has been the most positive development in a long time,” she concluded. “The experience of surviving a stroke has instilled in me a longing for more in life. It forced me to reflect on the direction I wanted to steer my life, making me acutely aware of missed opportunities and unfulfilled aspirations”

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