One woman and her dog

Wednesday 1 December 2021

One woman celebrated her degree from the University of St Andrews this week (Tuesday 30 November 2021) with her canine companion by her side.

Megan McEvoy crossed the stage at St Andrews to receive her degree with her assistance dog Flint, whom she credits for her success following a sudden disability. Without four year old Flint, she says it would have been “very unlikely” she would have been able to complete her degree.

Bolton-born Megan graduated with a master’s degree (MChem) in Chemistry alongside 600 fellow students graduating for the first time in person since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Megan first arrived in St Andrews in 2013, having been attracted to the University because of its high rankings in her subject league tables, as well as the “very personable” community aspect. “Everything just felt right,” she said.

But in her first Honours year, her world was turned upside down with the onset of Functional Neurological Disorder, more commonly known as FND. The disorder started suddenly one evening with extreme pain in Megan’s foot, and progressed to the entire left side of her body.

“I had gone from someone who was very active and knew where I wanted to go with everything, to a wheelchair user almost overnight,” she said. “Becoming disabled comes with a huge learning curve, not just for me, but for the people around me.

“It was a massive change and required a lot of adjusting, but the University was very supportive when this happened and worked hard to try and accommodate my new needs.”

When Covid hit, Megan was already taking a year out due to complications with her disability, but by September 2020 it was time to resume her studies as a final year student.

“I was initially concerned about how things were going to work since I am considered vulnerable, but I decided to trust the University and return to St Andrews,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised by all the safety measures in place and even more surprised when I was told that some of my course was going to be in person. After the first few weeks, everything seemed to return to semi-normal: I was able to go to the lab and do my research project just like I had done in previous years.”

Additional – and vital – support came in the form of Flint, an assistance dog offered to Megan by the UK charity Canine Partners. When the match was made, Megan was given special permission by the University to miss classes so she could make the trip to Heyshott to meet Flint in person, as well as attend training sessions. Happily, it was the perfect match, and she returned to live in student halls with the 18-month-old black Labrador by her side.

“When I initially got Flint, I knew he was going to be able to help me physically, but I didn’t realise how much he would also help me mentally. Flint has allowed me to do things that most people take for granted daily, such as taking my socks off. He has allowed me to be independent and not have to worry about the what-ifs, which meant that I was able to focus on my studies.”

Flint also acted as a welcome ice-breaker when Megan found herself back in the classroom with strangers. Having had time out throughout her studies, all of Megan’s initial classmates had already graduated and moved on. “I was returning to a room of people who have known each other for four years and I was the new person,” she said. “Flint helped to break the ice with my new classmates, which helped me to relax and develop new friendships.

“Without Flint’s assistance it is very unlikely I would have ever finished my degree as he has helped me maintain stability with my condition, something I never expected to happen.

“I was of course very excited to cross the stage, as for a long time I didn’t think it was going to be possible to finish my degree. I am also nervous as it marks the end of a long journey and the start of a new one. As a St Andrews graduate I know I am part of something special and that I will always have a community to fall back on if I need it. St Andrews is a close-knit community and anyone will go out of their way to help you.”

Megan, who hopes to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, added: “I am so happy that I could graduate with Flint by my side as he is part of the reason I have made it to this point, even if I was slightly anxious that he might get overwhelmed and start to be naughty, but he has supported me through the last three years. He deserves his moment too.”

Photos by Gayle McIntyre (top) and Megan McEvoy (bottom).

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Category Public interest stories

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