After 95% burns, 4 months in coma and 54 surgeries, Manoj Rana finally gets his MBA

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Manoj Rana on graduation day

Uttar Pradesh born Manoj Rana is not the predictable computer engineer who ended up doing an MBA. His reasons were slightly different. A dreadful fire in 2005 had rendered both of Manojs hands and his upper extremities severely contracted. Today, after suffering 95% burns, undergoing 54 surgeries, in coma for four months, in the hospital for 3 years, leaving the hospital on a 6-hour pass only to take the GMAT exam, Manoj got his MBA diploma a few days ago.

The feeling is obviously exhilarating.

And all this happened in the US after Manoj went there in 2004 as part of an exchange programme that his engineering college (Galgotia College of Engineering and Technology, Greater Noida) had with Purdue University Calumet, Hammond. Manoj grew up in Noida in a joint family and with 19 cousins and two of his siblings. He was the brightest of the lot and a school topper in the 12th. I wanted to be a doctor but my dad didnt have enough money so I decided to go for computer engineering, Manoj told PaGaLGuY on phone from the US.

The fire

In 2004, Manoj landed in the US as part of the exchange programme where he had to do 38 credit hours as his 90 credit hours were transferred from his college in India. It was only a few days before graduation that the tragedy struck Manoj in the apartment which he shared with a roommate. His apartment was on the 3rd floor. A guy living on the first floor who was having marital problems got his wife drunk, locked his 2 months old daughter in a closet and set the apartment on fire. Manoj and his roommate returned home from a party at 3.00am. The fire started at 4:30am. By the time, my roommate and I woke up; the whole apartment was on fire. We could not jump out as our balcony and windows were on fire. We called 911. The apartment got hotter and smokier every minute. As my roommate fell unconscious, I started running down the stairs and passed out, recalled Manoj.

As the paramedics began taking Manoj to the University of Chicago Burn Unit, Manoj heard one of them 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 US to get a good education and now I dont have a chance to live. I went unconscious and woke up in University of Chicago Burn Unit after 4 months of induced coma, adds Manoj.

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Manoj’s parents and his Occupational Therapist
The trial

Thereafter started Manojs tribulation. He had to live in the hospital for 3 years and got his Computer Engineering degree 1 12 years after the fire. When I got around to my sense, I realised I did not have any finger movement in my left hand and only a little bit of finger movement in my right hand. It is the same even today. I only type with one finger. I didnt think working in the computer field was feasible for me. I was not able to live independently and I knew it was going to be difficult to get a job. So I decided to go for an MBA. said Manoj explaining why the MBA after his computer engineering.

Manoj went through surgery every 3 months and an intensive therapy program. Some of the therapy included wearing a face mask for 3 years, pressure garments to my entire body; I wore dynamic splints to my hands, wrists and elbows to increase range of motion, daily dressing changes to my wounds and performed hourly exercises to restore function in all of my joints. I used to study in my extra time while I stayed in the nursing home, said the survivor. Manoj had to re-schedule his GMAT exam thrice because of the surgeries. And every time he had to start all over again as he would lose a month after the surgery.

The pain and therapy used to be intense and pain medicines made him sleepy and groggy. After all this however, Manoj scored a 700 in GMAT and got accepted into Kelley School of Business Evening MBA program in Indianapolis. I wanted to go to a part-time program as I didnt know how much course load I would be able to take. I got my acceptance letter mailed to the hospital as that was my address then.

Giving up
After spending a few months in the hospital, Manoj had begun to give up on life. I was devastated after the incident. I did not want to live. My dad spent every penny on my education and I did not want to be a burden on my family. I even asked for euthanasia. I told my mother to go back to India as I didnt think I was going to make it. But my mom told me that I was not a burden on my family and she would take care of me for my whole life if she had to. My doctors told me that they will do everything they can to help me live independently. The hope of being independent kept me going. I wanted to give my parents a good life and I used it to motivate myself, said Manoj remembering those days.

His roommate perished in the fire and so did other people in the building, he was the only one who survived. Though the memories of the fire do not haunt him, he misses his roommate. I have never been angry at the guy who did it. God will deal with him. I cant live my life being bitter and angry at the guy.

How has the MBA helped?

I have a better realisation of the world around me. I now understand the reasons why things happen in a company, in a community, in a country and in a global economy. Instead of making irrational judgments, I understand the reasons behind the economic events,” said Manoj. The MBA graduate is looking out for a job in finance. But his dream job is in investment banking or private equity/venture capital. He is also pursuing his CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and passed his level I exam in December. However, he has to yet get his green card. He is waiting to get his work authorisations only after which can he start working somewhere.

Giving back

Manoj insists that it is the values that his parents instilled in him and encouragement from his Occupational Therapist Shannon Hendricks which helped him cope with the horrific injury. My parents taught me that we can always find someone who is in worse condition than we are in. Talking about his Occupational Therapist, who he considers his guardian angel, Manoj said that she came into his life at the deepest and darkest pit of his life. When I moved out of the nursing home, I didnt have a place to go. So I lived with Shannons mother for 2 years.

Back then, Manoj had little to go on but already started giving back to the community. He volunteered in the Wishard therapy department between many of his surgeries. I visit the Wishard Burn Unit and talk to other burn patients about my experience. I lecture to occupational therapy students about all the adaptive equipment I use to live independently, informs Manoj. The fighter is also fortunate that technology has made it possible to live life as normally as he can. His car is adapted so that he can drive his car without having to use any finger movement. He uses voice recognition on his laptop for typing purposes. There are several adaptive equipment that he uses to live an independent life.

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Manoj Rana before the fire
US
Cruel that it may sound that Manojs terrible accident in the US was a blessing. There are very few cases of people with 95% burns who survive in India. It was because of the kind of medical treatment that he received and in quick time that made the difference. Besides, medical expenses were all paid for too. The US government has an emergency Medicaid program that allows foreigners with an emergency to get medical treatment. Some of the treatment was paid for by Medicaid and the rest was written off. I want to thank the government of United States for having such a program as it saved my life. Several of my surgeries were on a pro-bono basis, adds Manoj.

The fire survivor is however unhappy with the US with regards to the immigration and visa issues. “After the fire, I got a U visa which is given to victims of violent crime. You get a visa for 4 years and you can stay legally for 4 years. But you cant travel outside the United States. You can file for your green card after holding your U visa for 3 years,” laments Manoj. Raio Krishnayya, Executive Director, Center for Victim and Human Rights, has been fighting the immigration battle on Manojs behalf. Raio filed for my green card in August 2010 but I still have not received it. I have not been back to India since the fire, 7 years ago. I can only visit India after I get a green card. I have only seen my mom, my brother, my dad and my aunt. My sister has been denied a tourist visa several times. She even has been denied a student visa twice.

No way back home

The most ironical part of the entire tragedy is that Manoj is not sure when he can come back to India because of his condition. He explains: My sweat glands are all burned. My body doesn’t regulate temperature normally. Our body releases the heat through sweat. As I dont sweat normally, the heat gets trapped in my body. It gets very hot in India and I can die because of overheating. Trust me, I want to live in India but my body will not allow me. Also, I am at a higher risk for infection. So I have to be in the US.

Manoj has numerous plans for himself for the future, professionally and personally. But before that he wants to thank all the “doctors who donated their services to me for free. I know everyone is amazed that I survived this horrific injury and got an MBA, but please keep in my mind all the hard work of my parents, my brother, my sister, my occupational therapist, my doctors and all the caregivers. It would not have been possible without them.”