On September 15, 1979, when Sonnenberg was only 22 months old, he was involved in a devastating accident that left him with burns over 85% of his body. Sonnenberg was burned after a tractor trailer crashed into the car he was in, resulting in the rupturing of its fuel tank. Sonnenberg was rescued from the burning car by a stranger. The tissue damage suffered included the loss of the fingers on his right hand, his left hand entirely, his ears, and damage to his skull.
After recovering from the burn injuries, Sonnenberg became an active international speaking minister, with particular interest in persons with disabilities.
"Courage". 48 Hours Mystery. CBS News. February 11, 2009. Retrieved 2011-12-13. "Two-year-old Joel Sonnenberg, strapped into a baby seat, was horribly burned. Doctors spent years trying to repair the damage. He underwent more thn <sic> 40 separate surgeries."