Student with a rare genetic disorder graduates against all odds

Posted on April 05, 2019

Meet Erika Barnard, a graduate from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Theology. She has Familial Dysautonomia, an extremely rare genetic disorder that significantly impairs the function of her entire autonomic nervous system.

This incurable disease partly affected her studies because it resulted in frequent episodes of fainting due to near heart failure and a significant drop in blood pressure, along with progressively suffering organs due to a lack of oxygen in her bloodstream that resulted in regular episodes of prolonged hospitalisation. Against all odds, Erika completed her four-year degree programme in three years, earning an award from the Vice-Chancellor and Principal for her high marks throughout her studies.

Erika says it was never her intention to become a top achiever in the field of Theology. She simply wanted to be the best that she could be. Even though she is not physically able to do everything she was able to do, she challenges herself to keep her mind stimulated by working as hard as she possibly can, for as long as possible. Together with her husband, they are foster parents to four girls who were previously exposed to many forms of violence, abuse and injustice.

Erika with her family during graduation

Erika works as a youth worker and worship leader at Dutch Reformed Church in Monument Park, Pretoria, and as a drama and arts teacher at Laerskool Garsfontein’s Arts and Culture Association. She is currently training for the 2021 Comrades Marathon – a dream that she hopes will come true.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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