His journey started in Nigeria, a taunted teenager with large tumors on his face, driven into deep despair.
Eleven years later, Victor Chukwueke has undergone numerous surgeries, and is a step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a doctor.
In a rare act, the United States Congress passed a private bill last week granting Chukwueke permanent residency after years of him living in Michigan on an expired visa. The bill is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.
"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 tumors.
Private bills -- which only apply to one person and mostly focus on immigration -- seldom pass.
His is the only private bill to pass in Congress in two years.
"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 southeastern Nigeria town of Ovim.
He suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes massive life-threatening tumors on his face.
Treated as an outcast because of his deformed face, he was depressed and humiliated, he said. His family abandoned him at an orphanage.
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.
He says he considers himself lucky to have developed the tumors.
"Without them, I would not have met the nun, left Nigeria, arrived in the U.S. and had the miracle to attended medical school," he says.
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.
Doctors performed Chukwueke's surgeries over a period of time, he says, which contributed to his expired visa.
Despite the obstacles, he remains committed to getting an education.
He finished his GED while undergoing treatment and enrolled at a community college.
A benefactor later helped him attend Wayne State University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry last year. He 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 program 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 legalized, 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. "He 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."
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, sponsored S. 285. The measure passed the Senate in the summer and the House last week