NPR : Tell Me More

Filed Under:

Nigerian Rebuilds Life After Blindness, Burns

Play associated audio

Advisory: This segment contains language that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Tell Me More is continuing its series "In Limbo," which takes a deep look at the complicated experiences of immigrants caught between being in the United States legally and illegally.

In this installment: What is it like to be in limbo mainly because of medical issues?

Chinonye Omeje (also known as Chi Chi) lived in Nigeria where she was barred from school because of epilepsy. She suffered an epileptic seizure when she was 14 years old while stirring a pot of scalding hot soup over a flame. She fell into the pot, and thus her eyes were blinded and her nose, lips, right ear and eyelids were severely burned. She barely survived.

Everyone from doctors to volunteers helped her travel from Nigeria to America where she would be treated at some of the most advanced hospitals.

Omeje, now at age 22, has not undergone reconstructive surgery, but she has had several treatments to restore her facial skin and eyesight. However, later she lost her recovered eyesight due to an infection.

She has been living in the United States for the past six years with her mother, Helen, and they have not seen any members of their large family.

"I have three grandchildren that I haven't seen. My husband was sick. My children were taking care of him. My first daughter's husband passed away. It was my daughter with her five children," Helen Omeje told Tell Me More host Michel Martin. "I haven't gone home. All this was so hard for me. When I look back to that stage I feel down and weeping. Then Chi Chi encouraged me that it's okay."

Omeje was granted "deferred action status," which allows her to stay in America until September 2012 to get surgical treatment for her burns — procedures she cannot get in Nigeria. Depending on her physical needs after that, the law firm that has been representing her pro bono, Mintz and Levin, may file for a status extension.

Immigration services will not allow them to return to the U.S. once they leave.

Some people may question the justification of allowing those like Omeje to stay in the United States on grounds that her stay consumes this nation's medical, legal and educational resources.

But Lynne Eisenberg, Omeje's clinical social worker at the Perkins School for the Blind, sees it differently: "We're not going to save every person in the world, but we do have abilities and advantages in this country that I think need to be shared with people who need it. And if we want to look historically, our advantages are based on wealth; and our wealth, we could say, was based on taking advantage of other countries."

The Perkins School for the Blind helps Omeje gain the education she was never able to receive in Nigeria.

Omeje says she would like to stay in America, but be able to also visit her family in Nigeria. She says she wants to become a nurse so she can help others as they have helped her.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Anne Tyler: "A Spool Of Blue Thread" (Rebroadcast)

In her first live radio interview ever, Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler joins Diane to talk about her 20th novel, "A Spool of Blue Thread."


Thanksgiving Buzz: What Would Pilgrims Say About The Plight Of Bees?

When you sit down for your holiday dinner, you may want to give thanks to bees and other pollinators. Their health is tied to your food. What's behind the bee declines? Watch our video investigation.

Capitol Hill Lawmakers Find Living At The Office Makes Sense, Saves Cents

Three office buildings on the House side of the U.S. Capitol serve as offices, and by night as lawmakers' apartments. Dozens of lawmakers choose to sleep in the office when Congress is in session.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.