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‘Terrifying and exhilarating’: Free State woman bags Law degree despite brain disorder

Nicoleen Moorcroft, 33, from the Free State, graduated with her third degree on Friday despite suffering from a chronic brain disorder. Image: University of Free State.

Nicoleen Moorcroft, 33, from the Free State, graduated with her third degree on Friday despite suffering from a chronic brain disorder. Image: University of Free State.

Published Apr 26, 2022


Durban - A resilient young mother from the Free State has done what may seem impossible to most, after graduating LLB with distinction on Friday despite living with a severe brain disorder which caused memory loss and severe headaches.

During an interview with IOL, Nicoleen Moorcroft shared her journey from sickness back to health, and shared her three most important lessons which she took away from the ordeal.

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The 33 year-old, originally from Pretoria, was diagnosed in 2015 with Arnold-Chiari malformation, which causes a part of the brain to push into the spinal canal.

It can be serious for some and non-lethal to others, according to medical experts.

After a series of events, Moorcroft would come to know that her condition would only get worse before getting better. She suffered from disabling headaches, short term memory loss, nausea and other symptoms to name a few.

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“In early 2014, I was in Richards Bay to celebrate New Years. I hate swimming in the ocean most of the time, but my friend says let's do it. I went in and turned my back for one second and I got slapped with a wave.

“During that tumble, I started to get these headache attacks that I was experiencing. Then I realised something was wrong. I got attacked with these headaches every time I stood up or turned around.

“In June 2015, I went for an MRI scan and a neurologist picked up that I have Arnold-Chiari. The thing about it is that there’s no cure. It is a chronic disorder so you have to monitor it,” she said.

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In January 2016, she went in for decompression surgery at the hands of Dr Daniel Hugo.

Straight after surgery, Nicoleen had to have staples in her neck to secure the operated area. Image: Supplied.

“They removed a piece of my skull, which led to the part of my brain having more space for movement,” she added.

To add to the gravitational changes she had been undergoing, three months after surgery, Moorcroft’s mother passed away. During the entire period since the surgery, until a “long time after”, it took a serious strain on her mentally and even on her relationships.

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After the surgery, Moorcroft said she had been hard on herself in order to regain her previous life, which was filled with adventure and not 18 pills per day.

The journey to recovery is not one a person can make alone, she believes, with the support from her friends and loved ones nursing her back to good health, to some extent.

Nicoleen said that she was lucky that her scar healed so good following the surgery. Image: Supplied.

When she met Nicholas Moorcroft, her husband, she had started experiencing the symptoms which turned their relationship on its head.

“In normal relationships, you get the honeymoon phase then the real phase. With Nicholas and I, it was the opposite. I could not imagine what it was like to meet a girl who needed to go for brain surgery. But we got through it and today he is my husband and we have a little girl,” Moorcroft said.

During her third year for the LLB degree, she gave birth while still in the healing process.

Last Friday, she graduated with her third degree.

She described the experience as “terrifying and exhilarating.”

She currently works as a planning and marketing personal, under the direction of Professor Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at UFS.

When asked what three lessons she took out of the experience, she said:

“You are capable of so much more than you think. You are never alone, there is always someone willing to help and accept the help when it is given to you.,” Moorcroft said.