The family of a college football star who died in an apparent suicide after being thrown out of a hospital told The Daily Beast that they think he was refused care because of the color of his skin.
A Canadian health authority has admitted that it “failed” in caring for Samwel Uko, a 20-year-old football player who was found dead in a lake after reportedly seeking care from a local hospital twice.
Last spring, the young university athlete posted a Snapchat video in a hospital lobby in the Canadian city of Regina, which shows him begging for help. “I need help bro, I need help bro, for real,” Uko says in the video. In the same clip, a hospital staffer is shown standing behind him, and asks him: “Why are you taking a picture?”
That was one of two times Uko had gone to the hospital seeking professional help on the day he died, according to legal documents obtained by CBC.
After his first visit to the hospital, the young man was sent home and allegedly called the police later that day, citing mental health concerns. The officers reportedly escorted Uko back to the hospital, and security footage from that day shows him getting kicked out of the lobby by security guards.
In the clip, Uko can be heard yelling “No, no, leave me. Leave me alone! I said… I have mental issues! No, no, please, help” as security guards push him out the door.
His body was recovered from Wascana Lake that same evening on May 31, 2020—an apparent suicide.
“That’s my best friend. Everything, everything,” Uko’s mother, Joice Bakando, told The Daily Beast. “I’m not feeling OK," she said. "My son needed help. To kick my son out of the hospital? I don't know what happened."
“They didn’t care. Because it’s Black people,” she added. “I know my son. He doesn’t talk bad to people. He’s very, very nice… all the time, when I’m sleeping, I’m thinking of my son,” she said, sobbing.
Uko, who hails from a family of Sudanese immigrants, played for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and was in Regina visiting a family member. The athlete’s family sued the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) over the incident, and documents newly provided to CBC show that the SHA paid the family upwards of $64,000 over the incident.
“The SHA admits that it failed to meet the standard of care as it failed to provide the necessary follow-up care and assessment that was required,” a statement of defense from the health authority read.
The SHA, which has denied that Uko was discriminated against, has chalked up the failure to “difficulty in determining Mr. Uko's identity.” Its CEO, Scott Livington, has stated that “we recognize how deeply we failed [Uko].”
“Samwel was a lovely person, loved by everyone who knows. He lights the room and makes friends with everyone he meets,” Samwel’s uncle, Justin Nyee, told The Daily Beast. “We are angry and upset. We are angry because of the way he was treated in the hospital. Nobody should be treated that way. He was calm and collected, all he was telling them was, ‘I have a mental health problem, you guys help me.’”
Nyee said that the acknowledgment from the SHA about how they handled Uko is not enough.
“What happened to the people working that day? If they would have helped him, he would not have went and committed suicide,” he said. “We did not hear anything from the hospital about that. It’s kind of like, yeah, we apologized, we covered it up, let’s go to the next thing.”
Uko’s uncle said the family was especially frustrated because it was security guards, not hospital staff, who were told to deal with the athlete, even though he was showing no signs of violence.
“If someone had a different skin tone and they were sitting there, they would have helped. It’s not something we want to debate, or talk about, it’s just reality,” he told The Daily Beast. “The doctors there didn’t care, the nurses didn’t care, nobody cared because of who he is.”
“Canada racism is covert racism,” added Nyee. “And this is an example of that.”