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Accident victim offers lesson in survival to 'Hurst grads

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Gungeet Bajwa has become something of a seasoned philosopher at the ripe old age of 22. Then again, when you survive a horrific accident in which your vehicle careens under one semi-truck and flies head-on into another, when life is touch-and-go for weeks, and recovery drags on for months, you grow up quickly.

Gungeet would be graduating May 14 but for the accident, which happened Nov. 22, 2014, on rain-slicked I-90 as he was heading home to Seneca Falls, New York, for Thanksgiving break.

Still, he has a message for the Mercyhurst University Class of 2017.

“Everyone has a moment in their life that unknowingly is going to change it,” says Gungeet. Some events are more life-altering than others, but how you handle that unexpected moment and what you learn from it makes all the difference in how it ultimately impacts your life.

For Gungeet, the accident redefined his goals, strengthened his faith and reaffirmed that he is on this Earth for a purpose.

An only child, Gungeet and his parents, Naginder and Rajdeep, came to America from India when he was just 11. He had plans to become a physician, just like his father, and he entered Mercyhurst University to earn his biology degree and then attend the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. His path was pretty straightforward and his timeline right on target until the accident - an accident that crushed his car into a heap of metal, leaving barely more than the driver’s seat identifiable.

“It was almost like God was watching and had his hand over me,” Gungeet said in looking at pictures of the accident scene, his own memory unable to recollect that day.

The first call to his parents indicated Gungeet had not survived the crash. It was certainly what first responders thought when they happened upon the scene and, yet, it was their swift action that helped save him, he said.

Gungeet had defied the odds and survived, only to go through the rigors of learning how to walk, talk, even eat, all over again. His positive attitude and determination expedited his recovery and he was back at Mercyhurst by fall 2015. There was an entourage of supporters waiting for him.

But the Gungeet before the accident was not the Gungeet after the accident. His brain was still in the process of repairing itself. He could not identify his friends by face, only by voice. He would say things out of character and have to apologize for ill-placed remarks. He would try so hard to be the outgoing guy he used to be, but he wasn’t that guy – at least not yet. He needed to be patient; he was in the midst of a process that couldn’t be rushed.

And yet some things became crystal clear.

“Before the accident, I thought I wanted to be a doctor to make my father proud and to earn good money. Now I want to be in the medical field just to help people. Before, I felt there was probably a God, but now I know for sure there is.”

Finally, he said, “Life throws stuff at all of us, and we will fall. It’s how quickly you get back up that shows your resilience and your optimism and your belief in yourself.”

As for the scars, “No need to camouflage. You have them, so live with them.”