Student receives gold Duke of Edinburgh award as she describes re-learning to walk

From left, television presenter Charlotte Hawkins, Emily Palmer and his Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace. Credit: Ian Smithers
From left, television presenter Charlotte Hawkins, Emily Palmer and his Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace. Credit: Ian Smithers

A student nurse from Oxford Brookes University who has received a Duke of Edinburgh gold award has told her incredible story of learning to walk again following major surgery.

Emily Palmer, 25, had already completed the bronze and silver DofE awards when she lost the use of her left leg due to medical complications. She told her remarkable story about her road to recovery at a recent gold award celebration event at Buckingham Palace in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, and attended by thousands of people 

Emily, from Marlborough in Wiltshire, was working in marketing when the medical complication resulted in the loss of the calf bone in her leg.

She was in and out of hospital over a two year period as she underwent four rounds of surgery at Oxford’s Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

She said: “It was a very difficult time for me, but I was cared for by qualified nurses who were incredibly compassionate and professional and had trained at Oxford Brookes University.

“I realised that I could use my experiences to help other people and the nurses who cared for me inspired me to enrol on a nursing course at Oxford Brookes. When I started the nursing course I was on crutches.”

While enjoying her BSc (Hons) in Adult Nursing course, Emily decided she wanted to complete her DofE gold award.  

She said: “I had already completed my bronze, silver and most of my gold award. I’d raised over £10,000 for charities for the volunteering section. For the skill section I had set up a school newspaper and for sports I played basketball for South West England.

“It was all before the surgery and it took six years for me to decide I wanted to finish the gold award. I left it quite close to the deadline as you have to complete all of the activities before you are 25.” 

Emily did not let her injury stop her completing the DofE expedition, completing eight hours of activity every day for four days.  

“We were in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. It was very challenging. I used walking aids and had a massive brace on my leg. Every night I was so glad to not have to take one step further, but every day I managed to keep going. 

“I loved talking with other people doing Duke of Edinburgh about how different our experiences had been. Despite all our different journeys, they all led to the same destination - completing our gold award.

“We had amazing conversations around the biggest philosophical questions while sheltering from a storm. The expedition puts you in an unusual situation with people you’ve never met before. You had to get to know each other very quickly.”

Emily is now one month away from finishing her course and will soon be working in a nursing role in hospitals across the Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Integrated Care Board. 

She added: “I’m really passionate about trying to improve patient experiences and I really want to use my experience to make things better for people when they need healthcare.” 

Emily also recently represented Oxford Brookes at the prestigious Universia International Rector’s Summit in Valencia. 

She said: “I spoke about my experience as a nursing student and the importance of lifelong learning. This journey has changed my outlook on life and I take up opportunities I wouldn’t have considered before. I believe the most important part of our story is not the way we fall, but the way we brush ourselves down and stand back up again.

“Every day brings new challenges, as I adapt to the impact on my leg, but I am grateful for each step I take. I choose to embrace the changes and keep moving forward.”