‘We are so proud of our superhero’

Brave Paul Hannigan, 30, graduated against the odds.
Brave Paul Hannigan, 30, graduated against the odds.
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The family of a Musselburgh man who feared he might die after he was diagnosed with childhood cancer have spoken of their pride at watching him graduate from Napier University.

Paul Hannigan, 30, was a happy-go-lucky boy throughout his childhood until he started suffering from headaches and blurry vision when he was seven years old.

It was not until the age of 11 that he was diagnosed with three brain tumours that led to him losing his pituitary gland and most of his sight.

After surgery it was discovered 25 smaller tumours had developed down his spine, leaving him with a severely curved back that was crushing his organs and causing him constant pain. But Paul hasn’t let his health issues hold him back and is now the proud owner of a 2:1 Bachelor of Engineering Honours degree in computer systems and networks.

After watching her son collect his degree at the Usher Hall, mum Angela Kennedy, 52, said: “I’m proud beyond words. We were told he might not survive his back operation, so to see him now is humbling.

“He’s had so many barriers to overcome. I hope that the degree leads to him having a normal life where he’s treated with respect.”

On his big day Paul, who studied at Musselburgh Grammar School, was surprised with a university prize in recognition of his outstanding academic achievements and has been invited back to study a masters in September.

Paul’s achievement has even inspired big sister Laura Hannigan, 35, to go back to university to do a social work degree.

She said: “It was absolutely amazing to watch him graduate. I’m bursting with happiness because I never expected to see it. Paul is amazing and I hope he inspires other people with disabilities to show that anything is possible.”

Five years at university and a year at Edinburgh College before that has given Paul a sense of confidence and a desire to work in computer forensics one day. He was left a bit “shell shocked” after the ceremony, but was glad his mum and sisters were there to cheer him on.

Angela said: “I didn’t know what was going to happen when the doctors told us he was sick. I’m so thankful he’s still alive and I’m so happy with what he’s achieved.

“He has grabbed every opportunity that has come his way.”

Paul’s aunt, cousin and little sister Aleigh joined Angela and Laura as they watched him walk across the stage in his mortar board and gown.

The family was brought even closer by Paul’s cancer. He said: “I’m close to my sisters and they’ve given me strength. My mum is my rock. She takes me where I need to go and gives me comfort when I need it. They’re always telling me how proud they are.

“I was really excited about graduating and a little bit nervous, but I really enjoyed it. I just want people to know that anything is possible if you don’t let doubts get in the way.”

Big sister Laura added: “Paul is such a superhero and never complains. We thought we’d only get a few years with him, but look at him now.”