President Barack Obama
For Victor Chukwueke, fate has been benevolent to him. It is only when one is a beneficiary of such grace that he can rise from a zero level to a hero level. For one who was literally written off and abandoned in an orphanage even when his parents were alive, the survival spirit of Chukwueke is evidently strong. The proof of such strength is what worked in his favour last week when an otherwise illegal immigrant with expired visa got his life story turned around by fate.
In a rare act, the United States Congress, according to a report by CNN, passed a private bill last week granting Chukwueke permanent residency after years of his living in Michigan on an expired visa. The bill is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.
That signature, Chukwueke said, will be his favourite holiday gift.
“The day Congress passed the bill was one of the happiest days of my life," said Chukwueke, who left Nigeria as a teen in 2001 to get treatment for the tumours.
Private bills, which only apply to one person and mostly focus on immigration, seldom pass. But Chukwueke’s bill passed with ease. His is the only private bill to pass in Congress in two years.
That act, as they say in contemporary Christendom, has caused his life not to be the same again, forever.
Understandably, he is over joyous. "I was overwhelmed with joy; it was nothing less than a miracle," the 26-year-old said. "Only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me."
Before coming to the United States at age 15, Chukwueke lived in the South-eastern Nigeria town of Ovim. He suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes massive life-threatening tumours on his face.
The ailment reconfigured his face. His peers harangued him to no end. Depression set in as he suffered regular humiliation, stigma and social rejection.
Treated as an outcast because of his deformed face, he was abandoned even by his family, who rather than cause his outright death, threw him into an orphanage, perhaps hoping that he would not survive the tough condition of living there. Luckily, he survived and luck smiled on him too; it turned his verdict from condemnation to redemption.
Nuns from the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy rescued him from the orphanage more than a decade ago and arranged for a Michigan doctor to perform surgery on him.
Chukwueke is not bitter; he considers himself lucky to have developed the tumours.
“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 said.
He lives with the nuns in Oak Park, Michigan. They have cared for him since he came to the U.S., where he has undergone seven surgeries, including one that left him blind in the right eye.
Chukwueke's surgeries over a period of time, he said, contributed to his expired visa.
Despite the obstacles, he remains committed to getting an education.
“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," he said.
He graduated with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry last year. He had a 3.82 GPA and gave the university's commencement speech.
"Should I call myself a victim or should I press forward to my dreams?" he asked during the speech amid thunderous applause.
Soon after his graduation, the University of Toledo in Ohio admitted him to medical school. The only hurdle: The programme requires him to have permanent residency status, also known as a green card.
Though he qualifies for the DREAM Act, which gives immigrants who came to the United States as minors temporary residency, the measure would not give him the permanent status mandated by the university, according to his attorney.
And so began Chukwueke's journey to get legalised, a quest that has seen strangers rally to his help.
His attorney Thomas K. Ragland took his case pro bono.
“Victor's story is remarkable," said Ragland, who is based in Washington D.C. "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."
Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, sponsored the bill, S. 285. The measure passed the Senate in the summer and the House last week.
"Already, his example has enriched Michigan and our nation, but I know that his contributions to our country are only beginning," Levin said in a statement.