Mitch Stevenson had been taking medication for respiratory problems in March 2017 when he began experiencing severe chest pains and struggled to breathe.
He was rushed to hospital where he found to have double pneumonia and sepsis in his lungs and was immediately put into an induced coma.
Doctors told wife Jackie if he had arrived just six hours later, he would have died.
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After being given a tracheostomy to help him breathe, Mitch, 59, remained in a coma for a further two weeks, with an additional two weeks on a main ward to aid his rehabilitation.
As well as having to learn to walk again, Mitch developed post-traumatic stress disorder and took early retirement from his job as a Community Psychiatric Nurse.
Instead, he took up a degree in Media Production at Sunderland University and now the grandfather-of-five has been back on Wearside as one of around 2,500 students who missed out on their graduation ceremony in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.
And it is only his first graduation of the year – while studying for his degree, Mitch presented a rock music show on the University’s community station Spark and enjoyed his experience so much he returned to study an MA in Radio, Audio and Podcasting and will be graduating in November.
Mitch, 59, who is originally from Airdrie near Glasgow, said: “I have always had a passion for community radio and did some volunteering before my illness, and it was my wife who motivated me to go to university.
“Being at Sunderland has given me the opportunity to prove to myself that it is never too late to pursue your passion and move forward. Coming to the University was the best decision I ever made.”
Around 5,000 students are graduating from Sunderland over two weeks as part of the city’s biggest ever graduation celebration.
The university hosted a series of online graduations during the pandemic but always pledged to invite students back to collect their diplomas in-person.
For Mitch, the ceremony was a rollercoaster of emotions as his mother sadly passed away earlier this year.
“It was lovely to be able to take a moment and think of her,” he said.
“She always pushed me to chase my dreams and she would’ve loved to have been there on the day.”
Richard Berry, Senior Lecturer in Radio at the University and manager of Spark, said: “It was wonderful to see Mitch graduate and be able to celebrate his achievements.
“Mitch joined the course as a top-up student having studied at a college in Scotland and the award of a First-Class degree is proof of his determination to succeed.
“I hope this inspires others to follow in his footsteps.”
Mitch had this message for anyone who is struggling after experiencing trauma: “Take on board what other people are saying to you, listen to their advice and guidance and embrace their support.
“Five years ago I was six hours from dying and now I’ve just graduated with a First Class Honours degree. All of the support from my family and friends made this happen.
“Never give up.”