Sopuruchi Chukwueke, who goes by his middle name, Victor, grew up as an outcast in the village of Ovim in southeastern Nigeria due to the massive life-threatening tumors that distorted one side of his face, CNN
"I wouldn't go outside. I felt so ashamed," Chukwueke, 26, told the Free Press
. "Everywhere I went, people were making jokes. All the kids would just stare at me. I couldn't face it."
Despite having little money, his mother took him to physicians all over Nigeria. Nobody could help, including a doctor at a large teaching hospital.
The doctor "touched my face and told me there was nothing they could do," Chukwueke recalled. "I begged him and cried. ... I was so tired of the humiliation."
Because of his condition, doctors told his family he should be taken away and drowned. In 2001, when he was 15, his parents took him to an Nigerian orphanage and abandoned him.
Once there, he met the Rev. Mother Mary Paul Offiah of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy, who rescued him from the orphanage. The nun, on an African mission, arranged for a Michigan plastic surgeon to remove the benign growths caused by the genetic disease neurofibromatosis and perform reconstructive surgery on him for free.
that the Catholic Nuns then sent him to the U.S. for treatment.
While living with the nuns in Oak Park, Michigan, who have cared for him since he arrived in the U.S. 11 years ago, Chukwueke, who lost his right eye to the tumors, has undergone seven painful surgeries, has earned a high school equivalency diploma, has achieved a 3.82 grade-point average as a biochemistry and chemical biology major at Wayne State University in Detroit and in November 2011 won acceptance to the University of Toledo’s medical school in Ohio.
Private-relief bill was only hope
But he couldn't start classes, though, because he was admitted under the condition that he obtain permanent-residency status, also known as a green card, by August 1 of this year, CNN writes. The visa that enabled him to travel to Michigan for treatment had expired 10 years ago.
As a result, he found himself living under the threat of deportation. That's when he reached out to Sen. Carl Levin’s office to ask for the assistance of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, an Arlington, Virginia-based charity that works on refugee and immigration issues worldwide.
Levin introduced a "private bill" that would grant permanent residency status to Chukwueke, enabling him to stay in the country legally and attend medical school.
Private bills seldom advance. But the Senate approved the legislation in July 2012, and the House followed suit this month. Put another way, of the 83 private-relief measures introduced in the last two years, Chukwueke’s bill, S. 285
, is the only one to have been passed by both houses of Congress, Bloomberg.com writes
"Today, Dec. 18, 2012, is one of the happiest days of my life," Chukwueke told
the Free Press. "The passage of this, my private bill, is the best Christmas present ever.
Approval of private-relief bills like his especially noteworthy given that the same committee has refused to consider major immigration legislation -- including the bill known as the Dream Act, H.R. 1842, which critics describe as amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants.
When the bill passed the Senate in July, “it was nothing less than a miracle," he said. A private-relief bill “was my only option given my immigration status,” he told
Bloomberg at the time by e-mail.
Thanks to those who never gave up on him and supported him, he can go on to get his medical degree, he said, and use it to alleviate “the pain and suffering of others, especially those in underserved communities and nations.” In short, to give to others what was given to him.
"Only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me," Chukwueke said.