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A former drug addict who turned her life around has graduated from Swansea University and become a nurse so she can help others.
Joanne Hill, aged 42 from Burry Port in south Wales, started taking drugs at the age of 15 and after she entered a relationship that turned abusive, she became addicted to heroin.
The situation worsened when her two children, Callum and Kian, were both 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,” she said. “If I hadn’t have 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 carry on being a drug addict and die a drug addict? Or did I want to work at it and change my life around?
“I lost friendships, I lost my relationship with my family, my mother and father, I lost my two boys. I had no hope that things would change, I thought I would probably die a drug addict.”
However, 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.
“One day this nurse, Vanessa, sat with me and 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 have spent time with me when I felt like I didn’t deserve her time, I probably would have left hospital and gone back to the life I was living before.”
After a 19-month stint in rehab – coupled with her Christian faith – Joanne got herself clean and turned her life around.
She spent time volunteering with 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 back living with her.
“It’s a huge feeling of achievement,” said Joanne. “If you’d have said to me eight years ago that I’d be do a nursing degree and be caring for people, your boys are going to be back living with you, 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 and turn your life around, stop using drugs, then with hard work and determination it is possible. I do feel really privileged to be a nurse.
“Before I wouldn’t have been able to walk into a room full of people because I was full of guilt and shame, but my life is totally different now.
“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 to do that.”