Joanne Hill from Burry Port in south Wales, started taking drugs at the age of 15 and after entering a relationship that turned abusive, she became addicted to heroin.
The situation worsened when her two children were put into the care of their grandparents as her heroin addiction spiralled. She then came close to losing her life after another spell of drug abuse saw her rushed to hospital with endocarditis in September 2012.
“When I was injecting heroin, I sort of didn’t care if I lived or died,” Joanne said. “If I hadn’t gone to hospital then I would have died.
That was a real wake up call for me. I had to decide, did I want to die a drug addict? Or did I want to change my life?
I lost friendships, I lost my relationship with my family, I lost my two boys. I had no hope that things would change.”
A chance meeting with a nurse on her ward saw Joanne take the decision to turn her life around and start the road to recovery, and a career in nursing.
“The nurse, Vanessa, really made an impact on my life,” said Joanne. “She encouraged me to go to rehab and made me decide that I wanted to become a nurse. I wanted to have that same effect on other people’s lives.
I think if she hadn’t spent time with me when I felt like I didn’t deserve it, I probably would have left hospital and gone back to the life I was living.”
After 19 months in rehab – and helped by her Christian faith – Joanne gave up heroin and transformed her life.
She spent time volunteering with Swansea drugs project, Sands Cymru before embarking on a three-year adult nursing degree at Swansea University – where she gained first-class honours.
Now she is working as a staff nurse at Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli and her two sons are living back with her.
“It’s a huge feeling of achievement,” said Joanne. “If you’d have said to me eight years ago that I’d do a nursing degree and be caring for people, that my boys would be back living with me then I probably would have laughed because of the state my life was in. There was just no way I could have imagined that.
If you really want something, with hard work and determination it is possible.
I do feel really privileged to be a nurse. I was at my lowest and I wanted to be there for people when they were at their lowest. I think nursing is the perfect profession for that.”