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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Babies, heart ops and A-levels
By Hannah Goff
Education reporter, BBC News

Teenagers Vanessa Lee and Hannah White have fought off a little more than the usual exam stresses to get their A-levels.

Vanessa, 19, from Callington in Cornwall, delayed open-heart surgery to take her A-levels in history, media and an AS-level in film.

Hannah and daughter Ebony
Hannah gave birth to baby Ebony during her GCSEs

While Hannah, 18, managed to get four A-levels in biology, chemistry, Spanish and general studies, in spite of caring for a young baby.

Hannah had Ebony two years ago in the middle of her GCSE exams - literally.

"I had my English GCSE on the Wednesday morning. I hadn't felt very well all day really.

"I did my exam and I went home. Then I properly went in to labour and Ebony came after five hours.

"I came home the next day and the day after that I did another exam."

As if this wasn't enough of a feat, when Ebony was four months old, Hannah started her A-level courses at Blackpool Sixth Form College.

"My first year I don't think I managed very well and I had to do some retakes.

"But my friends and my partner, James, were very supportive and I got through it."

I felt college was a bit of a haven. I got to mix with people my own age
Hannah White

After a while she got into the swing of things and started to enjoy college life.

"It was so nice to drop off Ebony at the childminders' and go and see my friends in college."

As a teenage mother, she got government help with childcare bills, through the Care to Learn scheme.

"I felt college was a bit of a haven. I got to mix with people my own age and with people who didn't have children."

Slogging it

But didn't all those sleepless nights up with a teething baby interfere with her college work?

"We've been really lucky with Ebony - we haven't really had any problems."

Hannah got an A in general studies, a C in biology, a D in chemistry and an E in Spanish.

She has been accepted onto a biological sciences course at Lancaster University.

"Although the grades aren't exactly what I was expecting I am pleased and I keep having to remind myself that I have a toddler at home and she's beautiful."

Vanessa, who was diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 12, was told she needed to have open heart surgery to repair a valve just weeks before she was due to sit her A-levels.

I had to have a bit of a fight with my consultant, because he wanted to do it another way.
Vanessa Lee

"I was totally gutted. I always knew that I would have to have an operation at some point but I had always thought it would be when I was much older.

But the doctors discovered another problem and said the surgery needed to be brought forward.

"At the time I wasn't thinking about my heart, I was just thinking about my A-levels.

"I'd worked really hard and I didn't want it to go to waste.

"I wanted to move ahead with my career and secure my future."

That was why she decided to delay the operation.

"They said I needed to have the surgery - and the sooner the better - but it would be OK to delay it by a few weeks.

Vanessa Lee
Vanessa was diagnosed with a heart condition aged 12

"It wouldn't be life threatening or anything."

"I had to have a bit of a fight with my consultant, because he wanted to do it another way.

"My surgeon understood though, he said he would rather I had my career under way and then go ahead with the operation afterwards."

So Vanessa, who got an A-level in English last year, went ahead with her exams at Plymouth City College this summer.

She was given a few breaks to stop her getting too stressed and endangering herself and a little extra time to complete the exams.

"Three hours is a long time for me so it all helps because I can relax a bit more."

Having achieved a B in media studies, an E in history and a C in film, she has netted enough points to study criminology at the University of Plymouth.

"I've always been interested in the police force since I was much younger but with my heart condition I've had to think of other options so I thought criminology would be a good choice."

But before she can move forward with her career she still has one hurdle to overcome - a heart operation on September 13.

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