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news item News Friday, February 8, 2019 Friday, February 8, 2019 9:59 AM - Friday, February 8, 2019 9:59 AM

Former patient, Kechi, featured on "America’s Got Talent"

An inspiring story of courage and perseverance

In 2005, 16-year-old Kechi Okwuchi and 60 of her boarding school classmates were flying home to Nigeria for the holidays. Violent turbulence shook the plane before it slammed to the ground, killing all but two of its 109 passengers. Kechi was one of the survivors.

Kechi awoke five weeks later in a South African hospital with third-degree burns over 65 percent of her body. She spent seven months there, fighting to survive. Two years after the accident, officials at Shell Hospital, Nigeria, contacted Shriners Hospitals for Children — Galveston about her injuries, knowing the hospital’s international reputation for changing the lives of children from all over the world who have been severely burned.

Kechi arrived at the Galveston Shriners Hospital in March 2007. Since then, she has had more than 100 surgeries, including releases of burn scar contractures, skin grafts, adjustments to web spacing between her fingers and ear reconstruction.

A new opportunity

Fast forward to 2017, when Kechi began her journey on the hit TV show America’s Got Talent. During her first audition performance, Kechi impressed the judges with her incredible vocals. Her voice, coupled with her inspiring story of survival, instantly captured the hearts of viewers. Kechi made it through the rounds to the live show finale, and placed in the top 10.

While she was a contestant on America’s Got Talent, Kechi was also featured on the TODAY show, where she gave a tour of the Galveston Shriners Hospital and talked about how the music therapy program there gave her hope.

In January of this year, Kechi was back on stage again and received the "golden buzzer" from Simon Cowell after an emotional vocal performance on America's Got Talent: The Champions, which means she is headed to the show’s finals.

The healing power of music therapy

In addition to providing medical procedures, Shriners Hospitals for Children focuses on helping patients gain the inner strength needed to cope with changes in their lives caused by their injury or condition, and offers numerous counseling and therapy programs designed to help our patients build confidence, recover and thrive emotionally.

Regular visits from the Galveston Shriners Hospital’s music therapist gave Kechi the encouragement she needed to fight and stay strong, she said. She eventually performed in concert for her fellow patients, which was the first time she sang for an audience. “Singing is what helped me survive,” Kechi said. “Music helped me pull through all the emotions of surviving the crash and through all the surgeries and recovery.”

Kechi graduated in 2015 from the University of St. Thomas in Houston with a degree in economics, and is currently pursuing an MBA in economics there. After graduation, her dream is to work for the United Nations or the Federal Reserve.

“Kechi is an inspiration to other burn patients and those who provided her care,” said Mary Jaco, RN, MSN, administrator of Shriners Hospitals for Children — Galveston.

Kechi has been an amazing voice for Shriners Hospitals for Children, and we thank her for her unwavering support. We look forward to seeing what's next for this talented and strong young woman.