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Saturday, 20 September 2014

How A Gunshot Shattered My Spinal Cord And NFL Dream –Nigerian Student In American University


Nigerian studen

After a knock, the nurse gently pushed the door and peeped into the admission room, “Can I come in?” she asked, smiling caringly. She didn’t wait for any answers as she made her way to the bed where Robert Chigozie Okwara laid.
“How are you today young man?” she asked, walking towards the front of his bed. She stopped, rested her hand on the patient’s chest.
“I have come to get you for yourexercise today,” she announced, turning in the direction of a wheel chair placed by the door. She pulled the wheel chair closer to the bed, bridged it with a sliding wood toenable Okwara to transit, perhaps, painlessly, from his bed to the wheel chair, unassisted.

“CJ, you may rise, try and sit on the wheel chair so that we may go for your exercise. Take your time.” The young man nodded as visitors and his dad watched him in the process. 
Slowly, he   sat up, took a deep breath, surveyed the bed with his looks, tried to find a suitable position for his next shift towards the wheel chair. His father, Chigozie, stood by the edge of the bed, watching with frustration. Regular daily easy and simple chores had become painful challenges for his son. CJ, as he is fondly called, picked his right leg and gently placed it on the floor, adjusted his body in the direction of the wheel chair. He moaned, inhaled the travelling breeze in the room. “The pain is running through my veins,” he said as he began to massage his thighs. His dad tried to assist him but the nurse refused. “He has to learn how to live independently,” she affectionately explained.
He attempted a third push towards the wheel chair, placing his butt on the flat wood that slides him into the chair. The nurse unlocked the wheel breaks and pushed him towards the hallways for his exercise. They disappeared into the hospital’s gym.
This was not the life Okwara dreamt of when he transferred from Livingston College in South Carolina to Alabama State University, recruited as a line backer for the college football team, in 2012.
Early this fall, as summer days were ending, his dreams of playing in the National Football League, America’s elite professional sports , shattered during a day time random robbery in his apartment complex.
The 20-year-old athlete remembered how the robbery happened. “It was very spontaneous. Three men deceived my roommate and I as we walked out of our apartment that afternoon, they said they had ipod gadgets to sell to us in our apartment complex. The guys asked us to meet at a designated area to check the ipods. As soon as we arrived, they pulled guns at us, took my bag. I was scared. I reacted by punching one of the robbers in his face. He was knocked unconscious: his gun fell from his hands. One of the robbers panicked and shot at me as I was about to run. Everything went down so fast. I was shot in my waist. I lay in a pool of blood, bullet lodged in my spine; I was in serious pain from the gunshot. Other residents in the complex called the police and requested an ambulance. Thirty minutes later, the ambulance arrived and I was rushed to the Baptist hospital in Montgomery Alabama. I couldn’t move and breathing was very hard. I just wanted the hospital to put me to sleep. I was in a coma for six days.”
Through the university, the hospital contacted CJ’s dad, Chigozie Okwara, in far away Raleigh North Carolina. The hospital briefed him on the state of his son. That evening, he drove hundreds of miles to be by his son’s side.
“ Jebose, I arrived inside the intensive care unit of the Montgomery Baptist Hospital where he was being treated. He was connected to tubes and other stuffs. I held his hands and asked him to squeeze my fingers if he recognised my voice and my face. He did. I knew then that we shall win this new challenge that God blessed my family. I told him not to worry about anything. He is alive and we would go this journey together. He underwent surgery on his spinal cord and a plate was inserted to assist the shatter. The doctor said that though, he is paralysed from waist down, he is still a young man and we could see a turn around with his body in the future. He could walk. “I am struggling to make things better, but each time I try, things get worse. I don’t blame him for this. It’s not his fault. He never asked for this. He was a very good football player. He has a lot of friends in NFL now that have called to support and pray for him. My son has done everything I asked of him growing up, a great kid and fine athlete. When I drove taxicab back in the days, I was cab number 34. My son chose the number 34 as his high school football jersey and hoped to wear that number in NFL, to honour my hard work and struggles as a single dad. But here I am with him; our lives are altered by that senseless gunshot that paralysed him. I am not going to leave him behind. He needs me now more than ever. I am his feet and together, we will learn to live with his circumstance. We will walk again, someday, soonest.”
Chigozie has had his shares of the American nightmares. He moved to the United States with his wife in 1991. Few years after settling into life, the couple had CJ.   Chigozie engaged in small business enterprise with his wife to care for their young family. He opened an African restaurant, managed by his wife while he supported the income from the restaurant with taxicab operations. In 1996, his wife had immigration problems and was subsequently deported to Nigeria. Chigozie became a single parent by circumstance. He struggled to raise his two boys, CJ and his younger brother.
CJ experienced the hard and difficult life in the United States with his dad and brother.
‘Sir, those experiences motivated me to work hard in school and hopefully be a great football player and business man so that I might be that golden ticket for my family, especially my dad.”
Years later, Chigozie would run into immigration problems.
In 2007, he was arrested and placed on deportation. He spent three years in the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) detention centre. “Jebose, my children were homeless when I was thrown into the immigration jail, awaiting deportation. I thought I had lost them. But through the help of friends, the issues were resolved and I was released as a documented alien. I returned to Raleigh, gathered my children and we began to rebuild our lives and family again. We were near the completion of rebuilding this family when this tragedy happened again. God knows why us.”
Young CJ stared at the ceiling in the room, tears began to drop from the corners of his red eyes. He tried to hide the expressions of his feelings before his father. He didn’t want him to see the tears, but the streams ran down his eyes, spreading and covering his face.
“Mr. Jebose, I see this situation as a lesson. I have a second chance at life. I received so much support from friends and within the Football League. One of my friends, Austin, told me how I inspired him: how he looked up to me and how he always wanted to be like me. I didn’t know at all that the simple things I did for him as a friend would impact him so much, so when this happened, he was always here, supporting me with bible verses and encouraging me to stay strong. I had to be strong mentally and physically to be able to begin this new chapter of my life’s story.
“I feel I have disappointed my dad. My dad always told me to avoid bad situations; I got caught up in this strange armed robbery attack: my dreams of going to the National Football League as a pro draft shattered. My family looked up to me to better our lives. My father had gone through pains for us and especially for me. I worked very hard as an athlete from my high school to college so I would be able to fulfill my dreams of NFL and help my family. He spent three years in immigration detention facing deportation, but we pulled that through, now this armed robbery against me disabled my hopes and dreams. I feel I have disappointed my family. I can’t be drafted by NFL as a paralysed athlete. But I have to be positive.
“I dreamt of the big game days in NFL. I dreamt of super bowl. I never got the opportunity to show my talent. I came down to Alabama on scholarship to play football and also get education, but my big dream got shattered. Next year would have been my year for an opportunity to shine in the NFL and help my family live comfortably. I will finish my major in business and go from there. Being paralysed is not the end of the world.”
Via -Punch 

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