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Burn victim graduates with an MBA

By Manoj Rana, Special to CNN
May 23, 2012 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Manoj Rana, a native of India, nearly died in an apartment fire after coming to study in the U.S.
  • Rana underwent 54 surgeries and five years of an intense therapy program
  • He credits his parents and his occupational therapist for his recovery and survival
  • He graduated with his MBA this month and is looking for a job in finance

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week Manoj Rana talks about the fire that almost cost him his life.

(CNN) -- I came to America as a transfer student in the fall of 2004. I did three years of computer engineering in India and then transferred to Purdue University Calumet. On July 2, 2005, just a month before graduation, a guy who lived on the first floor of my apartment building set fire to his place.

He wrapped his baby in a blanket, put the baby in a car seat, put the car seat in the closet and then poured gasoline over the apartment with his baby and wife still in it. He then set the whole place on fire and left.

The fire started at 4:30 a.m. My roommate and I could not jump out with the balcony and windows engulfed in flames. As my roommate fell unconscious in front of me, I started running down the stairs and passed out. A firefighter found my body and pulled me out.

As the paramedics were taking me to the hospital, I heard one say, "This guy is 95% burned; he doesn't have a chance." At that moment, I thought about my family and how I came to America to get good education, and now I didn't have a chance to live. I was soon unconscious and later woke up in the University of Chicago burn unit after four months in an induced coma.

The man's wife, his baby and my best friend and roommate, Prabhat Singhal, died in the fire.

After seven months in Chicago, I was transferred to Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis for my rehabilitation. I don't have any family in America so I lived in a nursing home. I stayed there for 2½ years while I went through reconstructive surgeries to regain range of motion in my arms.

For more than five years, I went through an intense therapy program. I wore a face mask for three years and pressure garments on my entire body; I wore dynamic splints on my hands, wrists and elbows to increase range of motion, daily dressing changes to my wounds and performing hourly exercises to restore function in all of my joints.

I wanted to get an MBA so I studied in my extra time. I scheduled my Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, exam and got a six-hour pass from the nursing home to take the test. I scored 700 on my GMAT and got accepted into the Indiana University Kelley School of Business Evening MBA program in Indianapolis. I wanted to go to a part-time program since I didn't know how much of a course load I would be able to take.

Everyone gets their acceptance letter mailed to his home; I got my letter mailed to the nursing home.

My doctors did everything they could to help me regain range of motion in my arms. Even after 54 surgeries, I am still very limited. I don't have any finger movement in my left hand and very limited finger movement in my right hand. I type with one finger. I rely on various adaptive equipments to perform my activities of daily living.

This horrific crime not only left me with disabilities but also interfered with my visa. I have not seen most of my family in India since the accident seven years ago, because I am still waiting on a green card. My sister has been denied a visa four times in trying to visit me.

I have been able to come out of this tragedy because of the values that my parents instilled in me and the help from my occupational therapist.

My parents taught me the value of education, hard work and perseverance. They taught me to be content in life no matter what the circumstances. They taught me that "we can always find someone who is in worse condition than we are in. So be thankful for what you have."

I call my occupational therapist, Shannon Hendricks, my guardian angel. God sent her into my life when I was in the deepest and darkest pit of my life. She took me to church every Sunday while I stayed in the nursing home, which brought some normalcy into my life. Today, I can live independently because of her hard work.

After 3½ years, I graduated with my MBA on May 13. I am now seeking a job in finance.

To give back to the community, I volunteered in the Wishard therapy department between many of my surgeries. I still visit the Wishard burn unit and talk to other burn patients about my experience.

I also lecture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to occupational therapy students about all the adaptive equipment I use to live independently. I have had some wonderful people in my life who have helped me in my journey. I plan to do the same for other people.

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