Tuesday, 8 January 2013


When I first watched his video in which he was giving the commencement speech at the Wayne State University, I was really touched, moved and inspired -all at the same time. In face of incredible odds, VICTOR SOPURUCHI CHUKWUEKE, is surely a victor. For years, he lived in suspense and fear of deportation for his visa had expired. He prayed. He hoped. He pleaded. And his prayers were answered. Last Friday, President Barack Obama of the United States signed into law a rare private bill that gave him a permanent residency in the country. Also known as the Green Card, a permanent residency will allow him to study at a medical school in Ohio. He wants to be a surgeon.

Suffering from neurofibromatosis, he faced a lot of humiliation and discrimination in Nigeria and was able to leave for the US 11 years ago for a surgery. Then his visa expired. But being a hardworking and determined man that he is, he made use of the opportunity of his stay to graduate from Wayne State University. While at school, he was on the dean’s list (honours roll) throughout, he ran marathon to raise funds for charity and even volunteered at a research lab where the spread of tumors was studied. Such a purposeful man.

Private bills of this nature are rarely approved and just two has been passed in the US Congress in two years. The provision was made specially for him. He was understandably overjoyed upon hearing President Obama had signed it: “I was overwhelmed with joy; it was nothing less than a miracle,” the 26-year-old says. “Only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me.

(Why am I thinking of the yeye people we call leaders back in Nigeria? Yeye species of humans. Is this not an indictment on their irresponsible and corrupt leadership? If everything was in place, he wouldn’t face all the stress and trauma of constant thoughts of deportation. But do our leaders think at all? Yes, they do. On how to steal.)

At age 15

He had stayed in southeastern Nigeria (Ovim, Abia State) before leaving at 15. A medicineman said he should be drowned. Even his own family abandoned him at an orphanage because of his condition until some missionary nuns from the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy arranged for a surgeon (he operated on him for free) in Michigan to assist him in 2001 (bless those sisters!). Her him: “I went to a large teaching hospital in Nigeria and the doctor touched my face and said there was nothing they could do,” he says. ” I cried and begged him to do something. I was so tired of the humiliation.”

Funnily but understandable too, he is grateful for the tumors, and Iyaniwura agrees with him 100%: “Without them, I would not have met the nun, left Nigeria, arrived in the U.S. and had the miracle to attend medical school.” He also said: “I truly feel blessed. I feel like a new person. If it weren’t for the tumor, I would never have come here and have all of these opportunities. I feel so blessed to be here. My professors and classmates — everyone is so nice.” Before you start deceiving yourself it is possible in Naija, start counting the number of disabled in your school first.

He stays with the nuns and a man who pays his tuition fees in Michigan and they have been the ones caring for him since he arrived the country. He has undergone seven surgeries but unfortunately, he lost his right eye during one of the operations. But that is not stopping him o! He completed his GED (high school) while going for treatment and enrolled at a college in the community. Later on, a helper assisted him to gain admission to Wayne State University where he finished last year with a 3.82 GPA in biochemistry and chemical biology (in US, the highest is 4.0) and even gave the commencement speech (which you can watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzGrd6fMbNM) during which he said: 
“Should I call myself a victim, or should I press forward to my dreams?”

With one of his tutors.

Hear what his teachers have to say about him: 
“If something in the lab doesn’t go just right, Victor goes out of his way to follow up on it and assure us that it will get done correctly. It’s a point of personal pride for him. I have never in my life met someone with more of a positive attitude than Victor,” Honn added. “He’s a jovial guy with a great sense of humor. He is to be admired.” -Dr. Stephanie Tucker, Research Associate, Department of Pathology supervised him in the lab. 

“Victor has braved situations and challenges that would humble many and that could have instilled self-doubt or insecurity.However, he created goals for his personal and academic life that he has systematically achieved with self-possession beyond his years.” -Dr. Kenneth Honn, a distinguished professor of pathology in the School of Medicine, who nominated Victor as a commencement speaker after getting to know him in his lab. 
“He is an extremely impressive guy,” he said. “He has overcome every obstacle to become a first-rate young chemist who will go on to medical school.” -Dr. James Rigby, Chair of the Department of Chemistry. 
And this is what Victor has to say: I will tell everyone that everything is possible if you’re willing to work hard for it. No obstacle is too hard to overcome. #Word. You heard it yourself.

With the nuns who turned his life around. If you are a religious person, use your religion for good. Affect others positively.

An administrator at the school’s pathology department helped arrange so that his mother was present during the ceremony. His father is blind. After the graduation, University of Toledo in Ohio gave him admission to its medical school but there was one more obstacle: no permanent residency status. But now that Obama has signed it, he can now achieve his dream of becoming a surgeon. Hear him: “My own personal struggles to receive treatment have motivated and encouraged me to pursue a medical career … to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. A medical career will allow me many gratifying years of making a difference in the health and lives of others.”

Hugging his mum, Mary Chukwueke after 10 years of separation. at the Metro Airport. Iyaniwura. Orisha bi iya ko si laye. Mother is gold, and there is no deity like her.

He met so many helpers along the way, many of which were total strangers. These include Lawyer Thomas Ragland who took up his case and offered his services free of charge even though he is based in Washington DC. Same with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan who sponsored his bill (S.285) in the House. Ragland says: “Victor’s story is remarkable,Here is this kid who comes from Nigeria, he was taunted and teased for his diseases, and he comes to this country and excels, despite so many surgeries. It is a testament of not letting anything get in the way.”

He will still do more surgeries in the future to put an artificial eye and repair his nose. He will be starting his medical school in 2013. Obama signed just in time. Since President Obama has approved it, the State Department is obliged to reduce the amount of immigrant visas for Nigerians by one. I say no lele. Congrats man! Iyaniwura wishes you the very best in all your endeavours. Nigerian leaders, comot for road make I see well! Eyin oniranu gbogbo. You can watch the video of the emotional meeting with his mother here: http://www.freep.com/article/20110506/NEWS02/105060437/Wayne-State-grad-mom-from-Nigeria-reunite-after-years-apart

And with the warm hands of a mother, she wipes away tears from his face. They had not seen for 10 years. She was only able to say two words “Happy, happy”. 

Pix courtesy: ANDRE J. JACKSON/Detroit Free Press