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First class dad inspired by brave little Oscaír  

 When Noel Kehoe from Newry began his studies at Queen’s, he had no idea of the tough but rewarding journey that would inspire him to graduate with a First Class Honours and a PhD opportunity at Queen’s University Belfast. 

Halfway through his first semester at Queen’s, Noel and his partner Nicole had some news - they were expecting a baby. During Nicole’s pregnancy, doctors discovered that the baby had developed a cleft lip and a hole in his heart.  

During Noel’s second year of studies, little Oscaír was born. He had a tough start to life, spending three weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Oscaír was born with scoliosis, butterfly vertebrae, floating ribs, a missing set of ribs, a dysplastic thumb, a cleft lip and palate, heart problems and is profoundly deaf.   

Due to his cleft and his heart conditions, Oscaír was unable to feed on his own and had to be fed using an oral-gastric tube. He was eventually admitted to the children’s heart ward to await open heart surgery.  

After the first semester of second year, Noel decided to take a break from his studies. He and Nicole then lived on the heart ward for almost three months while Oscaír waited for surgery and then recovered. Within the first two years of Oscaír’s life he received five surgeries.   

Despite all of this and numerous stays in hospital, Noel returned to Queen’s after taking one year off. Today, he is graduating with a First Class Honours and has accepted a PhD position in the Centre for Light-Matter Interactions with Professor Marco Borghesi.  

Noel and Nicole also managed to squeeze in a wedding – they got married last year and are now expecting a second child in August.  

Speaking about his journey, Noel comments: “Keeping a positive mindset is essential to overcoming challenging times. This is one of the main reasons that my family has been able to achieve as much as we have.   

“Despite the many personal challenges I have faced during my studies, my experience at Queen’s has been very enjoyable. I have a keen interest in what I am studying and enjoyed being around like-minded students and having access to lecturers that are leaders in their respective fields and that have a passion for what they teach.  

“Organisation and staying on top of assignments is also key to reducing stress levels and relieving some of the pressure.”  

Throughout it all, Noel says little Oscaír and his family have been his motivation and support network, which has helped him to achieve such success. He says: “My wife, Nicole, has been incredibly supportive throughout my studies and I most definitely would not be in the position I am today without her support or motivation.   

“My mum and dad and older brothers have also been very supportive throughout my studies and have assisted me and advised me when I needed it.”  

He says that the academic team at Queen’s also helped to ensure he was supported and reached his full potential: “When I decided to take a leave of studies at Christmas 2019 my personal tutor, Dr Stuart Sim, was very helpful and understanding.   

“When I returned to my course and had to travel to London for hospital appointments all my lecturers were all very understanding with my situation and assisted me through the modules as I required. Also, my Master’s supervisor, Dr Satya Kar, was very understanding during my project, especially with my wedding being halfway through the project.”  

Noel and his family are now looking to the future. Oscaír will soon be a big brother and Noel will shortly begin his PhD.   

Noel says: “I am looking forward to my future at Queen’s. I will now have more freedom around the campus and potentially be able to mentor groups of physics students who are starting their journey through physics.”  


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