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A different dream for Wits teacher with cystic fibrosis

- Wits Communications

A journey that was almost thwarted just as the undergraduate degree was in the bag.

In the third year of her Bachelor of Education, Dale Langsford’s lifelong dream was shattered.

She had wanted to become a teacher but her failing health had prompted her doctors to inform her that she needed to de-register from the teaching degree she was completing at Wits University. The problem was that the teaching practicals were life-threatening for her.

Dr Dale Lansford

Going into a classroom and spending a couple of weeks every year teaching is an exhausting experience for any student. But Langsford had another challenge. She suffers from cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition where the body produces too much sticky mucus. This mucus affects the functioning of certain organs in the body.

It prevents the pancreas from secreting digestive enzymes and clogs up the lungs making cystic fibrosis sufferers susceptible to infection. The disease also weakens immune systems.

Langsford was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two years old and her parents were told that it would be unlikely that she would live beyond her 10th birthday.

The disease didn’t kill her as a child, she survived and always dreamed of being a teacher.

It was these infections that were beginning to plague Langsford every time she had to go into a classroom to complete her teaching practical.

“Every time I went on Teaching Experience, I would end up ill, whether it was pneumonia, bronchitis, viral infection or something. When you're in the school, you are exposed to many germs,” she says. “And my body could not fight the normal colds and ‘flu-like other people.”

Initially, when Langsford told her doctors of her plan to study to become a teacher, they saw the benefits of her chosen profession. There were holidays when she could go and do her IV treatments and school sports where she would be out in the open.

But after seeing the toll the teaching practicals were having on Langsford the doctors told her it would be best to de-register.

“I wanted to become a teacher, that is what I wanted to do. I applied to Wits to do a Bachelor of Education in intermediate phase," says Langsford.


"Now I had to resign myself to the fact that I would have to find something else to do in the world.”
After filling out her de-registration forms Langsford had to take them to Professor Lee Rusznyak at the School of Education.

There something totally unexpected happened.

“I went into her office and told her I could not continue. She took my deregistration forms. And then she ripped them up in front of me.”

Rusznyak told Langsford she would not accept her leaving the course and wanted to explore other options. With the support of senior university management and the consent of the Department of High Education and Training, Langsford took a different route to meeting qualification requirements. She went into research.

Langsford qualified as a teacher with distinction, then went on to do her Honours in education, where she was awarded the prize for the best research project.

She then achieved a distinction for her masters dissertation, and was given the opportunity to work on it further to convert it to a PhD. Her research explored the way groups of newly qualified teachers analysed lessons they observed. Langsford dedicated her PhD to her friends with cystic fibrosis who had died before they could complete their studies.

In 2021 she became Dr Langsford. Her journey from a B Ed student to her doctorate took ten years.

Cystic fibrosis had slowed that journey, but along the way there were other surprises. She got married and she and her husband adopted a cat called Rey.

It appeared that Langsford’s first love of spending time in a classroom was now something of the past. Or so she thought.

The Covid-19 lockdown found her stepping back into a classroom, this time a virtual one.

During the Covid lockdown she tutored school children online.

“I have found other ways to scratch that teaching itch,” she explains.  

But it does mean that cystic fibrosis has a daily impact on her life. Her days are filled with regimes of physiotherapy and treatments. Still at times infections flare up resulting in stays in hospital for intravenous therapies and interventions.

Now there is a glimmer of hope for sufferers, there is the promise of new genetic treatments that might one day cure cystic fibrosis. But for Langsford she continues to fight the disease day by day.

Recently the 31-year-old secured a position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the ‘Teacher Choices in Action’ Project. She has authored three research papers with more in the pipeline.

“I'm going to live life, and while being fully compliant with my treatments, medicines and therapies, I am going to do the best that I can do and make my mark in this world, no matter how much time I've got in it.”