Samwel Uko (right) and his father prior to the news that he had signed with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Samwel Uko (right) and his father prior to the news that he had signed with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Family of dead Abbotsford football star urge changes to mental health policies in hospitals

Uko family disappointed in actions of Regina hospital, hosting public funeral service this weekend

They called him “Dunga” – a tribal family name from his native Sudan.

It has been nearly two weeks since former Abbotsford football star Samwel Uko died by suicide in a Saskatchewan lake at the age of 20, but the stinging pain still has the Uko family reeling.

RELATED: Officials looking for answers after Abbotsford football star found dead in Sask. lake

Justin Paul, Uko’s uncle who lived with the family for many years in Abbotsford before moving to Calgary, was shocked to hear the news of his passing late on the evening of May 21.

“It’s been hard, it’s been tough,” he said. “We just … I don’t know. We are a very small family and the first immigrants from back home to come to Canada. This is all the family we’ve got.”

Paul said his nephew was special and managed to always put those around him in a better mood.

“Samwel was a very happy person,” he said. “He always tried to make everyone feel welcome around him. He was a people person; everyone loved to talk to Samwell and loved his smile. He was a problem-solver. He was just an awesome guy, and it’s a big loss for us.”

At the time of his death, Uko was in his second season with the Langley Rams.

Paul said Uko made the drive to Regina on May 19 to visit his aunt and cousins. He said Uko woke up on the morning of May 21 and told his family that he had been hearing voices in his head, and he was acting unusual.

Paul said that Uko had never been diagnosed with any sort of mental-health issues and had never spoken of them in the past.

He said that Uko had also never suffered any significant head injuries from his many years of playing football. It’s a mystery to Paul and his family what sparked these issues.

Uko’s cousin then took him to a Regina hospital, but was not allowed to enter the facility due to COVID-19 restrictions that were implemented at the time that limited hospital attendees from bringing others with them.

A series of miscommunications then followed at the hospital, which Paul said led to his nephew’s death.

“They let us down,” Paul said. “His cousin went with him and they told him to leave. The cousin tried to tell them that he needed to explain Samwel’s situation but they said, ‘We don’t need you’ and they called security on him. He then wrote his number down on a piece of paper so they could call him to explain what was wrong with Samwel.”

That phone call never happened.

About 45 minutes later, Samwel called his cousin to say he could be picked up. Samwel then told his cousin that he received a prescription from the hospital and to go to a pharmacy to pick up his medication.

Paul said that, unfortunately, that “prescription” turned out to be a business card with a 1-800 number that had to be called to qualify for Saskatchewan health care.

“Given his mental status at the time, he thought they gave him a prescription,” Paul said.

Uko became frustrated at the pharmacy and then told his cousin to take him home. A few hours later, he was dead in Wascana Lake.

RELATED: Abbotsford football star Samwel Uko dies at age 20

“That’s why I feel disappointed and horrible from the hospital,” Paul said. “There was someone there who volunteered and said, ‘Give me a call and I will explain what is happening,’ but they did not do that.”

Today (June 3), the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s CEO, Scott Livingstone, announced that a policy change has now been made that a family member or support person will be allowed for those seeking help. Livingstone said that the new policy change was not related to Uko’s death.

“In my view it does have something to do with it, even if he denies it,” Paul said. “I think it shouldn’t take my nephew’s death for them to change the policy. It’s something they should have done long time ago. It feels too little, too late for us.”

Paul also said that, although Livingstone did offer his condolences to the Uko family in today’s press conference, no one from the SHA has reached out to the family.

He said hospital staff did not do their best to help his nephew.

“We needed someone to tell the hospital staff, ‘This is what is happening. This is what this person is going through.’ They didn’t do that,” Paul said.

The SHA has an ongoing investigation into what happened, but nothing has been released. Details from an autopsy on Uko’s body have also not yet been released. A request for an update from the SHA by The News was not given.

Paul said the support from the Abbotsford community has been heartwarming. A GoFundMe account for the family raised double its goal, and a related petition that was started to raise awareness for mental-health issues has over 28,000 signatures.

“It’s been fabulous,” he said. “They are showing the love and kindness to all of us. It has been really great seeing the community coming together. It shows how much he was loved by his peers. We owe them for all the love they have shown us.”

Paul said he hopes his nephew’s death can lead to more discussion and aid for those dealing with mental-health issues.

“We, as a people, have to be able to talk openly about mental health because there are a lot of people dealing with it behind closed doors and they don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “Medical staff should be trained to know what to do when someone comes in under distress like Samwel did. Instead of just sending them away, they should get more information before letting them go, and follow up.”

Paul added that he hopes people remember Uko fondly.

“He was a great guy in his young age,” he said. “People have to love each other, talk to each other and be there for each other. I hope this can lead to more people talking about this important issue because, especially with the young guys, people need to address it and adjust.”

Paul said the community is invited to Uko’s celebration of life. A viewing occurs at Grace Gospel Church at 2087 McMillan Rd. in Abbotsford on Friday, June 5 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m, and on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. A service will follow the Saturday viewing.

abbotsfordFootball

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Abbotsford’s Tradex has been transformed into a volleyball and basketball facility with Open Court. (Instagram photo)
Abbotsford’s Tradex transforms into sports facility

Open Court program hosting volleyball and basketball teams for practices and possibly games

Abbotsford’s Skully White (left), who donated his kidney in December, has started a campaign to find other recipients and donors. The first candidate is retired police officer Gavin Quon. White owns and operates a hotdog stand, Lullys Food Experience, out of the Abbotsford Canadian Tire parking lot. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford hotdog-stand owner starts campaign to find kidney donors and recipients

Skully White donated his kidney to customer Tim Hiscock in December

The Harrison Hot Springs Resort. Visitors to the resort currently pay a three per cent “hotel tax,” which is brought back to the district to help fund tourism initiatives. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Harrison hoping to expand hotel tax to Kent, parts of Fraser Valley

The expanded area would bring in more money for Tourism Harrison marketing

Dallas Lajimodiere is wanted by the Abbotsford Police Department.
Man wanted by Abbotsford Police domestic violence unit

Dallas Lajimodiere has three arrest warrants, including for assault with a weapon

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

Most Read