Cystic fibrosis survivor wins Wintec’s Gordon Chesterman scholarship
Damien at his home in Te Awamutu
A cystic fibrosis survivor with a passion for Information Technology (IT) is the Wintec Gordon Chesterman scholarship recipient for 2018.
Damien Bell, a second year Wintec student studying a Bachelor of Information Technology will be awarded the annual scholarship at a ceremony next month.
The 35-year-old from Te Awamutu was diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis, an inherited life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system.
He never thought he would be around long enough to need to focus on a career. However, after his lung transplant journey in August, 2016, he was given a second chance at life.
“Growing up with a life limiting chronic illness taught me that you need to follow your aspirations and make the most of everyday, as you never know when your time will be up. Plan how you are going to make your hopes and dreams come true – and get going!”
Damien explains cystic fibrosis is an isolating disease, where socialising with others with cystic fibrosis is highly discouraged due to the high risk of infection. However, being post lung transplant significantly reduces this risk, allowing him to now be more actively involved with the charity, Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand – Waikato Branch.
“I am currently the Adult Representative for the Waikato region. Part of this role is providing a voice for the adults within our group who are unable to attend meetings, to ensure we as a branch are doing all we can to make their journey with this disease as easy as possible.
“I also use my experience and life story to encourage parents of young children with cystic fibrosis, as well as adults pre-transplant, that the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis isn't the end. Life can still be full and great. You can get married and have children, study full time, be a contributing member of society, and travel the world,” says Damien.
Damien has been interested in IT from a young age, studying the subject during and after high school, before changing career paths.
“Following my transplant, I wanted to make the most of the second chance I’d be given. Part of that was following my dreams and passions, which was to pursue a career in IT. One drawcard is that technology is ever evolving and changing, which means there are always new learning opportunities.”
In July 2017, Damien took the plunge and enrolled in the three year degree at Wintec as a mature student.
“Returning to study as a ‘mature student’ wasn’t nearly as hard or daunting as I thought it was going to be. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about it, but scared to take the plunge, to go for it.”
The father of two says “balancing study with family life has definitely been tricky at times. However, being focused and invested in my studies helps me be organised and on top of the work, to ensure I have down time to spend with my wife and daughters.”
“I am also doing this for them which keeps me pushing when things get busy,” he says.
Damien with his daughter Ziva
In his 18 months of studying, Damien has heard from ex-students who now work in industry, which he says has been inspiring, informative and affirmed he’s on the right path with studying IT at Wintec. He has also had the opportunity to be involved with the Design Factory NZ.
“I have loved my time here so far. I like that a lot of the papers are practical and hands on learning, not just lecture based. The tutors are approachable and knowledgeable, which makes for easy learning and communication.”
When asked what this scholarship means to him, Damien said: “Receiving the Gordon Chesterman Scholarship means I can now pursue my studies and continue to show others that chronic disease is not a setback. With hard work, dedication and support, anything can be achieved. It is also a great help financially for my family.”
Damien also said he was surprised and shocked to be named the recipient: “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me, so it was amazing and humbling to receive the call and be chosen out of all the applicants.”
At the completion of his degree, Damien is looking forward to having less of a financial burden, so he can invest back into the community sooner.
“I hope to do this through realising my dream of having an IT business, which could come to fruition earlier. My goal is to help get more people involved in the Information Technology industry through teaching and providing services for the community. Having a position of leadership within the community will allow me to gain contacts and help me to continue to raise awareness around cystic fibrosis and Organ Donation New Zealand.”
Gordon Chesterman, who will formally present Damien with his award at a ceremony next month, said he was impressed with his passion for the industry as well as his significant contribution to the community through his volunteering work.
“Damien is hard-working, committed and truly passionate about what he’s studying along with making a difference to those living with chronic illnesses, which is really inspiring. He’s an asset to Wintec and I’m confident he will continue to make a real impact within the community and his chosen career.”
The scholarship, worth up to $15,000, is offered in recognition of the significant contribution made by former Wintec chair, Gordon Chesterman, and is awarded on the basis of academic merit, personal character and community involvement. Students enrolled in Wintec’s School of Media Arts, the Centre for Business and Enterprise, or the Centre for Information Technology are eligible to apply.
Mr Chesterman was Chair of the Wintec Council for more than 10 years, and was Deputy Mayor at Hamilton City Council for two terms until 2016. He is a strong advocate for Wintec, and the business and arts community.
Applications for the 2019 Gordon Chesterman Scholarship are now open, and close at 3pm, Friday 1 March 2019. For further information and details on how to apply, click here.