Determined Keelyn thanks teachers and family after long journey back

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

Family and teachers’ encouragement helped Keelyn Cotter sit his Leaving Certificate two years after leukaemia forced him to abandon his preparations first time around.

But his own determination was the key factor key as he decided during his recovery to take up physics just to be eligible for the college course he opted to pursue.

Keelyn Cotter

So his biggest joy with the results he collected at Nagle Community College in the Cork southside suburb of Mahon was at passing higher level physics, given that he only started the subject last September.

“Ya, I had to cover the whole two-year course in one year, but I got there,” said a delighted Keelyn.

While he hoped he might have done a bit better in one or two other subjects, he is still hopeful of being offered a place on an electrical engineering degree at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) by the Central Applications Office (CAO) next Monday.

If he needs it, he might also get the benefit of a reduced CAO points requirement as he applied to the DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) scheme that recognises the difficulties faced by college applicants dealing with disability or illness.

“As a result of my chemotherapy, I think, my memory is not as good as it was, so it affects how I study.”

He was just three months from beginning his Leaving Certificate when a niggling shoulder pain prompted his doctor to get some blood tests in March 2016.

When the results showed problems with his white blood cells, Keelyn was not quite prepared for the leukaemia diagnosis that followed, even after some online searching before attending hospital.

“When they hit me with it, I was devastated, obviously. But I knew too that there was nothing I could really do at that stage,” he said.

By the end of March, he had done his first of three rounds of chemotherapy but continued initially to prepare for his Leaving Certificate.

“My school and the teachers were very supportive, they even offered to give me lessons when I was in hospital so I didn’t fall behind,” he said.

But with ongoing chemotherapy, he eventually had to give up on doing the Leaving Certificate in 2016, instead preparing for a bone marrow transplant at St James’s Hospital in Dublin just weeks after the exams ended.

A six-week recovery there was followed by a return home to Mahon in September, where his movements were severely restricted because the various treatments left his immune system entirely depleted.

“I was at home for my 18th birthday in September, but I was on immunosuppressives and I could only drink filtered water,” he said.

All this time, however, had given him time to research his study options, having been unsure what he wanted to do even three months before his first planned attempt at the Leaving Certificate.

“When I was in hospital, I decided to look into what I’d like to do. A friend was doing electrical engineering and it sounded really good, so that’s what Ipicked,” said Keelyn.

However, he was very reluctant this time last year about returning to school after nearly two years away.

“I didn’t want to go back at all, but only that the school were very supportive and my family helped me all the way, I mightn’t have done it at all."

With their help, nerves about joining a whole new class where he knew nobody soon passed and he made a whole bunch of new friends — as well as packing the two-year physics course into nine months of learning.

“I was also too old for the school soccer team — but I went one better and I was able to manage them,” he boasted.

His illness also saw him lose out on the final part of a successful season with his own club Ringmahon Rangers, but the medals for his earlier role were some consolation.

For now, Keelyn is waiting on the CAO Round 1 offers on Monday.

But ahead of his 20th birthday next month, his story should offer inspiration to others jugglingillness and adversity that it is possible to persevere and succeed with their studies.

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