Brave fashion graduate Ezra Riley learns to walk again for emotional Graduation ceremony
25-year-old Ezra Riley, from Exeter, graduated from BA (Hons) Fashion at Arts University Plymouth this week in an emotional ceremony on-stage at Theatre Royal Plymouth, supported by friends and family.
Ezra studied Fashion at Arts University Plymouth from 2018 to 2022, completing his degree during an uncertain period of ill health and subsequent hospitalisation. He was due to graduate with his cohort early 2023 but had to defer after a severe bleed on his brain.
Growing up in Exeter, Ezra briefly emigrated with family to Cyprus in 2004 before returning to Exeter in 2005. After attending Clyst Vale Community College and Exeter College, Ezra completed the first year of a degree in International Tourism Management at University of Plymouth before making the decision to transfer to Arts University Plymouth. Motivated by his passions for Japanese fashion, culture, and equality, Ezra chose to study BA (Hons) Fashion at Plymouth’s arts university.
Ezra’s health problems first became apparent during the height of the UK’s COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. At the beginning of January 2021, Ezra suffered a seizure that was later found to be caused by arteriovenous malformations (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels on the brain that cause blood to bypass capillaries and flow directly from arteries to veins.
Following months of appointments with specialists in Plymouth, Exeter and London, a plan was created to treat Ezra’s AVM with Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery, a type of gamma radiation beam treatment.
Ezra on stage with his father Malcolm in Theatre Royal Plymouth
Alongside his treatment, Ezra successfully completed his degree in BA (Hons) Fashion at Arts University Plymouth before returning to Exeter to live and work full time at Helpline, becoming Assistant to the Manager. Ezra's university housemates had returned to their family homes after completing their studies, but wanted to live together in Plymouth again, so Ezra found a house for them to share and they signed the contract to move in together again.
Having completed his degree, Ezra was on course to graduate alongside his Arts University Plymouth classmates in a ceremony to be held in March 2023 and before that to move in with his former housemates again. Ten days before the scheduled moving date in January, Ezra suffered another seizure and was hospitalised at Derriford Hospital’s intensive care unit with a severe brain bleed in January 2023. The impact was so severe that Ezra, who was subsequently transferred to Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in February, lost the ability to walk and has stayed in the NHS Mardon Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre in Exeter since March, unable to yet return home to his family but responding well to treatment.
Ezra was unable to graduate in the March ceremony alongside his classmates, and has not yet been able to return to the planned house share with his friends, although they intend to keep space for him when he is able to join them.
Ezra with Arts University Plymouth’s Class of 2023 outside Theatre Royal Plymouth
When the dates for Arts University Plymouth’s next graduation ceremony in October 2023 were announced, Ezra became determined to commit to his rehabilitation in order to relearn how to walk across the stage at Theatre Royal Plymouth and collect his certificate in front of friends and family. Overcoming his nervousness about having to walk in front of a theatre full of people, Ezra worked hard with his rehabilitation team at Mardon, embracing the therapy on offer.
Ezra said: “My graduation ceremony at Theatre Royal Plymouth was one of the proudest and most nerve-wracking days of my life. Not only did I graduate from BA (Hons) Fashion at Arts University Plymouth, I also walked in front of hundreds of people after being wheelchair-bound since January. Ever since suffering a severe brain haemorrhage, I Iost the ability to do numerous things, including walking, and have been working with the brilliant people at Mardon Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre to relearn some of those skills.
“I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone at Mardon who made this possible. Without the amazing staff there, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I will be forever eternally grateful for them all. I especially want to thank my wonderful, loving, phenomenal parents who have been incredible this whole time, coming in every day to help with my rehabilitation. I love you both so much!
“I’d also like to say a massive thank you to friends and family who have visited me and been my rock in this awful time, keeping my spirits up. You are my heroes and I love you all so very much. I’d also like to thank all of the amazing staff from Arts University Plymouth and Theatre Royal Plymouth who worked so hard to ensure that my graduation went so smoothly and was a complete success. It was the highlight of my year.”
Ezra wearing a denim jacket that he designed and made
Ezra’s parents, Maria and Malcolm Riley, said: “As a family, we are incredibly proud of Ezra’s determination to overcome every challenge he had faced in the last few years. His courage is an inspiration to us all.”