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Arthritic student gets top degree

* 15 July 2002 *

Arthritic student gets top degree

A severely arthritic student, who some days cannot even get out of bed to study, still managed to get a first for her degree. Jessica Murphy, 23, will collect her BSc in Psychology and American Studies on 19 July at the Brighton Dome.

Jessica, from Hixon near Stafford, said of the result: "I can't believe it! My final year was so bad in terms of arthritis it was almost comical. But I got loads of support from my friends and the University, which helped me through it."

A former county champion runner, Jessica had complained of pain in her knees for many years. It wasn't till she was 19 and already studying at the University of Sussex, however, that she was diagnosed with chronic rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis is a genetic disorder caused by the body being unable to recognise its own tissue and therefore attacking itself. Jessica describes it as "a constant dull baseline pain - like bad toothache in your joints". The condition also caused Jessica an extreme lack of energy and inflammation of soft tissue: "Some days I'd be fine, other days I just couldn't make it to campus."

As a direct result of her discomfort, Jessica was forced to repeat her second year. However, this break made her more determined: "I think my arthritis helped as it gave me a focus. I had to choose whether I wanted to suffer because of the pain or succeed despite of it."

Jessica was also motivated by her enthusiasm for her studies: "I really loved my course and this gave me the motivation to keep on going. On days I was fit I would always go onto campus. On bad days I would stay in bed but read as well."

Jessica is currently working as a Technical Assistant for the Environment Team at Brighton and Hove City Council. However, in the autumn, she plans to return to Sussex to do a DPhil in Experimental Psychology, focusing on the dance drug Ecstasy and addiction.

* Notes for editors *

Journalists and/or photographers are welcome to attend Jessica's graduation ceremony at the Brighton Dome on the afternoon of 19 July. Alternatively, we have pictures of the graduand which we can send to you.

For further information, please contact Benedict Brook or Alison Field, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, or

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