Award-winning Huma Malik overcomes challenges of long-term health condition to 'help others'

For many, living with a long-term health condition is challenging enough in itself - both physically and mentally.
Huma Malik helps others in her professional job and also in a string of volunteer roles. Picture: James HardistyHuma Malik helps others in her professional job and also in a string of volunteer roles. Picture: James Hardisty
Huma Malik helps others in her professional job and also in a string of volunteer roles. Picture: James Hardisty

But for inspirational Huma Malik, hers serves as the impetus behind her day-to-day job as a healthcare worker in Leeds and an impressive array of volunteering and charity work.

The 27-year-old suffers from thalassemia major, an inherited condition which means she produces no haemoglobin, which is used by red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body.

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The condition needs constant specialist care, which, for Huma, involves day-long blood transfusions in hospital every four weeks as well as medication, or infusion pumps, to remove the resulting excess of iron in her body.

Huma Malik has been named Yorkshire Asian Young Achiever of the Year. Picture: James HardistyHuma Malik has been named Yorkshire Asian Young Achiever of the Year. Picture: James Hardisty
Huma Malik has been named Yorkshire Asian Young Achiever of the Year. Picture: James Hardisty

These in-hospital treatments continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Huma was also classed at risk and spent much of shielding and in isolation.

Despite this, she has maintained her vital role at NHS Leeds CCG as an engagement worker - or ‘community of interest involvement advisor’, to give it its full name - and also managed to continue her extensive volunteer work throughout the crisis.

Huma has now been crowned Yorkshire’s Asian Young Achiever of the Year at the 2021 awards - which recognise the work of those aged 18-30 from South Asian heritage in the region - where she also scooped the public sector category win.

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She said it was a huge “surprise” to win the title, adding it was an “honour”, particularly given the field of worthy winners.

“I was really happy, really proud. It was also nice to reflect on actually how far I have come.

“I think it’s a good thing for me to remember how far I have come and to keep me inspired for the future,” she said.

In her role with NHS Leeds CCG, Huma listens to people across the city, gathering their thoughts and experiences, and uses them to influence changes within services and improve health outcomes in the city.

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Projects she has worked on include the recent city-wide maternity and neonatal consultation, engagement on cardiopulmonary rehabilitation as well as various mental health engagements.

It builds on a former role she held at children’s charity Barnardo' s which involved making sure young people’s voices were heard within mental health services.

Huma also shares her skills in a volunteer capacity at NHS Bradford CCG as a long-standing member of their People’s Board, which brings people together to represent patients and the community in influencing decisions and strategies at the trust.

She also volunteers for Leaders Unlocked - a national organisation to support young leaders to help bring about changes within organisations such as the police, health services and within mental health.

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During the pandemic, Huma volunteered virtually for Leaders Unlocked on the health side of matters but also on mental health, through her additional role as a volunteer with the Mental Health Foundation, where she is a youth leader.

Huma also runs the social enterprise Music Talkz, which provides music workshops for young people to tackle mental health issues through creativity.

She said: “I’ve done lyric writing workshops, creative workshops for young people to find different ways to express themselves. Sometimes, more basic production skills - things they can do on their phones.

“It’s to promote different ways of expression because I know sometimes young people - and adults - don’t always like to talk about feelings and it’s sometimes difficult to know how to.

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“But writing it out is a different way of being able to express something.”.

The enterprise also includes art as well as listening to music and harnessing its power as a mood influencer.

Huma says she feels she wants to “pass on” all that she has learned - through her incredible array of work, both professional and volunteering, and also through dealing with her own condition.

Huma’s thalassaemia can lead to bone pain - in the lower back, arms and legs - as well as shortness of breath and general fatigue, with treatment being a careful “balance”, she says, in trying to ward off those symptoms before they become too pronounced.

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“I know what having a long-term condition feels like and how it can impact you physically and at the same time, mentally. So I suppose it’s that personal aspect [which aids work].

“I have had support myself and I want to do the same for others - helping everyone out and making sure people aren’t feeling low or isolated with mental health.

“It’s just trying to help and do more and make sure of a positive impact and helping people to have a happier and healthier life.”

Other winners at the Yorkshire Asian Young Achievers (YAYA) included Leeds blogger Sonja Hunjan, 23, who started ‘The Blind Reader’ Blog to raise awareness after being diagnosed with the serious degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa.

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Another winner on the night was Wakefield’s Yasmin Khanagha, 24, a newly-registered children’s nurse, who was president of the Leeds University Nursing Society and is passionate about inequalities in the NHS. She is currently studying a masters degree in healthcare and is president of the Mind Matters Society.

The YAYA awards, launched in 2020, was held at the Cedar Court Hotel in Bradford and broadcast live on the internet, hosted by BBC TV and radio presenter, and stand-up comedian Noreen Khan.

Dr Mohammed Ali, founder and chief executive of the QED Foundation, which organises the YAYAs, told the audience: “Changes to equality legislation means it is more difficult to openly discriminate against people on the basis of their faith or ethnicity and a diverse population is increasingly seen as a social and economic asset to the Unity Kingdom.

“But we must not let these advances blind us to the fact that it is much more difficult to succeed in many areas of life if you are not white.

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“As the award winners will know only too well, their race - and their northern backgrounds - make it more difficult to achieve in many professions.

“We hope this event will leave people feeling inspired and uplifted by the dedication, commitment and talent of the award winners whose stories we heard.

“But most of all we want other young people to follow their examples, aim high and know that with hard work and determination anything is possible.”

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