It’s been a remarkable four years for University of Sunderland’s Linzi Saunders.

The student has already had her life saved three times thanks to transplant surgery.

Now, she is preparing to graduate from the University of Sunderland during a pandemic – not bad for a 23-year old.

In fact, while the rest of us struggle to get used to isolating from friends and family, it’s something of a second nature to Linzi.

“Because of everything I have been through I’ve had to shield numerous times in my life,” she said. “So, I don’t really find that too much of an issue.

“However, I did find it a struggle not having my art studio space to work in. I spend every minute I can in my studio, I loved the creative atmosphere and that sense of inspiration when I sat at my desk.”

But Linzi herself is an inspiration.

Struck down by leukaemia aged 18-months, doctors gave her just a 40% chance of survival.

Today, the student is preparing to walk off with a Masters in Fine Art despite her health issues – and despite Covid.

Initially diagnosed with two different complex types of leukaemia, medics decided they had no option but to try new research medication, with Linzi becoming the first patient to undergo this type of treatment.

It was then decided that a bone marrow transplant would be needed and all Linzi’s family were tested to see if they would be possible donors.

Her brother, James, proved a perfect match but, despite a successful transplant, the new treatment Linzi was receiving began affecting her heart and she went on to develop cardiomyopathy by the age of eight.

It was a condition doctors could not ignore and while still a pupil at Ryhope Junior School in Sunderland, Linzi was told she would need a new heart.

Put onto the NHS Organ Donor Register, she waited five weeks before being told that a donor heart had been found.

Linzi went into Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital on December 4, 2005, for the operation.

While mum Michelle, 50, and dad James, 53, waited by her bedside, Linzi astounded doctors by making a speedy recovery, returning back to her Ryhope home on December 23.

In 2014 Linzi developed the Norovirus which had a huge impact on her already weak kidneys.

It was a blow medics could not ignore as Linzi’s kidneys were only operating at 42% due to the treatment she had received as a baby.

Linzi said: “I was put back on the NHS Organ Donor Register and it took a few years for everything to get sorted. Again, they tested members of my family to see if there was anyone who might match.”

In a bizarre twist of fate, the mum-in-law of one of Linzi’s sisters also agreed to be tested – and turned out to be an ideal match.

On September 21, 2017, just as she started at the University, Linzi underwent her third transplant, again at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

Today she is taking the pandemic in her stride and looking forward to the future.

She said: “This year I’ve mostly worked from home due to being a vulnerable adult. In all honesty, I don’t think it was a bad thing I was in my own surroundings. It boosted my confidence and made me feel more comfortable with my unique painting style.

“I based my final exhibition on the current situation including myself and friends in a large scale mural-style painting. I wanted to create my interpretation of the pandemic while adding a touch of positivity.”

And what will Linzi’s lasting memories of University be?

“Well, many of my memories are the times I have spent with friends, staying late to finish work together,” she adds. “Or just to keep each other company.

“Being able to talk to the staff and feel that they are on the same page as you. But personally, just the thought that I have achieved everything I wanted in the three years I have attended the university is really something I am proud of.

“I started university while waiting for a kidney transplant, thinking back I honestly don’t know how I did it.”

A video of Linzi talking about her time at University can be viewed here