A degree of strength: Genetic disease does not hold back LLB graduate Nicole Padayachee

Nicole Padayachee with her dad Jay Padayachee and sister Jordan-Leigh Padayachee.

Nicole Padayachee with her dad Jay Padayachee and sister Jordan-Leigh Padayachee.

Published Jun 5, 2024


Nicole Padayachee of Greenwood Park, who was born with a genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), recently graduated with a Bachelors of Law degree (LLB) from Varsity College Durban North.

“I’m very excited about this achievement and for everything that is to come. I believe my life is a story and this is just the close of one chapter and the beginning of another,” said the 22-year-old.

“Living with SMA is difficult. All your voluntary muscles are continually weakening, so simple tasks like eating, breathing and talking become difficult. However, we have never allowed my disability to deter me from doing the things I love and I live life to the absolute fullest.”

She said her experience at university was great.

“I have made lifelong friendships not only with my classmates but also with the staff and our guest speakers. I was able to grow as an individual and as an academic with so much support in this process."

She added: “With the lack of accessibility all over the country and the lack of education regarding SMA, there is a constant need to explain that I’m not just unable to walk but all my voluntary muscles are deteriorating.

"I can’t just be carried or transferred. I need to always be in my wheelchair so when a venue or a mode of transport is inaccessible, it means I can’t participate like every other student.

“Completing a law degree is hard in general but when you couple that with a life threatening disease it makes it a hundred times harder. Academics have always been my strong suit, but over the last two years of my degree my strength deteriorated significantly and this definitely put a strain on my ability to keep up. In saying that, I have never let it stop me from achieving my goals.”

Padayachee said she had a great support structure from her friends and her father, who always helped and accommodated her the best they could.

“I live with my dad and my younger sister, and they are my number one supporters. I have a close relationship with my family and my group of friends, who have almost become like family.

“I strongly believe in the saying 'show me your friends and I’ll show you your future', so I am very intentional about who I surround myself with. My dad has looked after my sister and I, all by himself without batting an eyelid. There will never be a greater father or role model."

Padayachee, who has done some part-time work for Varsity College, said she was ready for the working world.

“I hope to get my articles at a good firm and start the process of admittance as an attorney. Graduating was just step one. There is a lot more that needs to be done,” she said