Holly recovers from vital surgery to join pals at graduation

Two semesters work done in half the time

Date posted

29 June 2017


Last updated

19 March 2020

A COURAGEOUS music student has graduated from Edinburgh Napier University just months after emergency surgery for a life-threatening illness.

Holly Thomson was rushed to hospital last October after developing potentially fatal complications from the severe Crohn’s Disease she has suffered from for five years. 

She took two months to recover from the major stomach operation at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, throwing her study schedule into chaos.

Not only did she miss classes, lectures and written work, she lacked the stamina to practise on the flute to fulfil the performance requirements of her degree.

However, Holly, 22, refused to give up on her studies. She stunned lecturers by shunning advice to take a year out, returning after Christmas and then cramming two 12-week semesters’ work into half the time.

The flautist also prepared two recitals and two ensemble exams as well as performing a concerto with the university orchestra.

Today she was rewarded for her courage, drive and determination when she joined classmates at a ceremony in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall to pick up her Bachelor of Music honours degree.

Holly said: “I am absolutely delighted that despite all the challenges I have faced, I will be graduating with the rest of my year group.

“I also want to say thank you to my lecturers, who have been sympathetic to my condition, supportive, and able to accommodate me postponing my studies where necessary.”

Crohn’s Disease causes inflammation of the digestive tract, meaning Holly often has to cope with fatigue, vomiting and severe abdominal pain.

When she began her four-year course at Edinburgh Napier, she decided to live at home in Cambuslang, near Glasgow, so she could receive support from her family and also remain close to her consultant.

However, this meant a daily 100-mile round trip to university, involving two train journeys and one on the bus.

She also had to accommodate regular hospital appointments for treatment – received intravenously over a period of several hours – and a string of unplanned hospital stays to stabilise her condition.

Holly said: “Last year’s operation in particular, and having to deal with the aftermath of major surgery, was a traumatic and life-changing experience. 

“My recovery took several months and though I was soon able to catch up with written work, resuming my practice schedule was a slow process. It took several months to regain the stamina and breath support needed to enable me to produce a good sound and perform at the standard required to complete my performance module.

“But I pushed myself to continue with my studies, and was fortunate to be permitted to sit missed exams on my return.”

As well as pushing herself to the limit academically, Holly tutors young flautists in her area and plays in several groups including Flutes Unlimited, a flute choir who rehearse in the south side of Glasgow. She hopes to pursue a career in teaching music.

Andrea Kuypers, Holly’s flute teacher at Edinburgh Napier, said: “I honestly can’t praise her highly enough for what she has achieved. She is a determined and special individual, and is modest and quiet about her illness and achievements.

“Even when she has been in hospital, she has spent every minute she can studying on her laptop, and I can honestly say I have never heard her complain.”