Cambridge student who suddenly died from undiagnosed condition awarded degree after death

Clarissa Nicholls is described as ‘dedicated, determined and resilient’

A University of Cambridge student who died suddenly from an undiagnosed condition has been awarded her degree posthumously.

Clarissa Nicholls, 20 years old, collapsed and died from a heart attack whilst hiking on holiday in France in May 2023.

Unbeknownst to Clarissa or her family, she had been living with arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy, a genetic condition where the heart muscle is replaced by both scar and fat.

Last week, on 27th June, Clarissa’s parents accepted her degree “in absentia” from the University of Cambridge where she was studying French and Italian at Trinity Hall at the time of her death.

Clarissa’s mother Hilary said: “We are very grateful to Trinity Hall for including us in celebrating what should be Clarissa’s final stage of her journey as an undergraduate at the college.

“Despite a journey cut tragically short we want to celebrate her achievements alongside her cohort as it should have been.

“We know that we would have been very proud of her today and we remain proud of her dedication, determination and resilience as she set out to be the very best she could be.

“She put everything into her studies, the friends she made here and the staff that supported her along the way including while she was on her year abroad and we are grateful for the happy times she clearly took away with her to the next life.”

Clarrisa’s family and friends have been campaigning for more awareness around heart conditions in young people and raising funds for ECG screening for others with undiagnosed issues.

Izzy Winter and Jessica Reeve, two fellow Cambs students, set up Clarissa’s Campaign for Cambridge Hearts to raise money for heart screenings through ECGs.

They set out to raise £7,000 but the fundraiser has passed the £50k mark and they say a simple ECG screening could have detected the abnormality in Clarissa.

Izzy said: “There really needs to be more on-demand screening in place. There’s such limited availability.

“There’s no reason why schools and universities can’t have regular screening days.

“The important thing is that they’re conducted by the right person, like a cardiologist, who can advise on the results.

“Death is such a terrible subject and a bit taboo, particularly among young people, but this campaign has been so positive.

“Talking about Clarissa has become such a celebration.”

Jessica said she will never forget the day she received the news that her friend had passed.

She said: “We were all in total shock.

“You’re suddenly in a different world where nothing seems real anymore but the thing that got me through was having everyone around me.”

Izzy added: “What made it so scary was that Clarissa was so fit and active.

“Here was the person who would go for a run first thing in the morning even if she’d been out partying the night before. She was in the prime of her life.

“When I returned to Cambridge it was hard because she wasn’t here anymore and there was such a void. It really hit me then.”

Hilary is backing the call for more screening of heart conditions in young people.

She said: “Screening is the best tool we have to detect signs of a life threatening condition and they have already raised an incredible £50k which will fund screening days this year and in future years.

“Statistically that is sure to save a number of lives. It will also prevent other families having to go through this horrendous, and frankly unnecessary, tragedy.”

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Featured images and story via SWNS.