Eric Nzeyimana: A Breath of Fresh Air (CHI)

Eric at CHI

“She told me I would be a great candidate for the Southwest Center for Higher Independence,” he said. “I knew I needed help, so I applied and was accepted.”

“I can stand now using crutches and that gives me a lot of hope for both my body and my spirit,” 27-year old African native, Eric Nzeyimana said with a smile, his recently found inspiration beaming from his face.

Just a few years earlier, Eric had been perfecting his karate and scoring goals during football games, an active young man who ran for sheer pleasure along the roads of his hometown in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in central Africa to escape the violent and horrific wars happenings in Africa. It was a time of innocent bliss that was about to change.

In 2008, he was aware of some pain in his lower back, and over the course of the next three years, his health took a rapid turn for the worse as his legs began to weaken noticeably.

“It happened out of nowhere,” he said. “The doctors are still not sure what caused it, but my nervous system was shutting down, and after a while I could not even walk.”

Feeling as if his whole life was slipping through his fingers, Eric found he would need surgery on his spinal cord if there were to be any hope for his lower body. Fortunately, he was able to come to the United States as an African refugee through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2011, and he was operated on immediately.

“I was happy I made it through okay,” he said, “but I was also very sad because I couldn’t move or do anything on my own now.”

During the months he spent recovering in a medical center, the effects of his surgery began to take a toll on his spirit, and his outlook grew more despairing.

“My family stayed back in Africa, so it was really tough not having them there during my surgery. Although I miss them a lot I knew coming to America was best for me.”

One day, with only a glimmer of hope left, Eric had an encouraging conversation with the woman who helped him emigrate to the States. She spoke of the potential she saw in his mind and his mental abilities, and he began to see not all was lost and bad about his life.

Ready for a breath of fresh air, Eric was excited about beginning the program in May, 2012.

“Since I started, I’ve begun to feel like myself again,” he said, with the beginning of a smile on his face. “I feel as though I’ve been revived back to life, in a way.”

Learning how to deal with his disability in a hands-on way, Eric is already becoming stronger both physically and mentally.

“I am learning so much here and appreciate everything they have taught me,” he said enthusiastically. “I can now balance a budget, pay bills and I’m starting job training in the Work Training Center here.”

It’s still a long road ahead for him, but through the selfless compassion of the staff on campus who work with him every day and his own involvement, Eric has regained hope and believes his path to independence is very real.

“My doctors tell me I will never be as I was before, and I know that, but they are hopeful I will walk again on my own one day,” he said quietly, “I’m so grateful for SCHI and all they have helped me learn and how they have made me feel as though I have a family in the US.”

Coming to America has altered Eric’s life in almost unimaginable ways, and his treatment, combined with optimism and determination, shows him that life can get better.

As an African refugee, he will continue his life in the states after he graduates from SCHI always appreciating his roots and how America has offered him a better life and opportunity.

“God has truly created a miracle upon my life bringing me to SCHI and I’m confident I’m in the best hands to get on with my life, wherever it takes me in the future.”

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