FEDERAL WAY, Wash. - The holidays are for spreading good cheer, but one family is devastated after the death of a father who lost his battle with COVID-19. Doug Bwamu, a Seattle Children’s Hospital healthcare worker, was hospitalized for more than a month before he died just days before Christmas.
"He will not be back in this house. I was so hopeful that he was going to come back. I was really hopeful," said Tabitha Maina, Bwamu’s partner. "It’s hard to think of him in the past tense right now. Every time I talk about it in the past tense, it’s still unreal to me."
Bwamu is survived by his mother and two sons. The eldest son lives in Delaware with his mother and the youngest lives in Federal Way. Those who knew the father knew all about his two favorite boys.
"He loved, loved, loved his kids. He talked about his kids so much," said Carrolle Jones, a good friend of Bwamu’s.
"He was a kind father, loving father, caring person," said Bwamu’s 13-year-old son Isaiah.
Bwamu’s death orphaned Isaiah. His mother died in the fall of 2019 of a terminal illness. Isaiah said the loss of both parents is hard to put into words, especially at his age.
"I just have a bunch of mixed emotions about it. Just sad, mad, angry. I can’t feel one type of way. Sometimes I don’t have an appetite, sometimes I do," said Isaiah.
Bwamu tested positive for coronavirus and was hospitalized for 33 days. He was on a ventilator to help him breathe after doctors said his lungs were severely damaged by COVID. As an active, healthy man with no preexisting conditions, family and friends said they were sure he would pull through.
"I was just so excited to see him come out of the hospital one day and then it just shocked me," said Isaiah.
"He was young too. So, the notion that you have to be old doesn’t matter. You can be young, you can be old. If it gets you, it’s hard," said Chris Okoth, a longtime friend of Bwamu’s.
"We really hoped Doug was going to get out of it. We really were hopeful. We were so much hopeful," said Jones.
Bwamu was an anesthesia technician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. His team members said the "valued member of our workforce" joined the team in April 2019. Officials also said he "made a big impression on his colleagues, patients and families."
During his work break, Bwamu made videos promoting hand-washing, maintaining social distance, and wearing a mask.
"That’s why we are so shocked this happened because he was always so careful," said Maina.
"He would say, ‘Guys, we need to be careful, you need to mask up, you need to stay six feet.’ The most that you can do is to protect the people around you," said Okoth.
His youngest son is echoing the same message.
"Just wear your mask and be safe, you know. The best decision. You don’t want to end up in the hospital with really bad conditions. You just want to stay safe. It’s the best option for your family and everybody else," said Isaiah.
His reputation followed him well outside of the hospital. Bwamu’s community donated much more than the $50,000 goal on a GoFundMe page created during his hospitalization. Loved ones said so many people are showing support because he made some sort of impact in their life.
"Dougy loved people. He loved to be around people. If you met him, you would think you’ve known him for so long," said Jones while holding back tears.
"Honestly I’m surprised there’s this many people in the community that are just very caring," said Isaiah.
It’s care Isaiah and his brother will need to help them through this sudden loss. Loved ones of Bwamu, a Kenya native, assured Isaiah that Africans take care of their own.
"Where we come from, we say, ‘It takes a village.’ So, Isaiah is not alone by any stretch of imagination. Tabbie is there, but all of us are going to chip in," said Peter Alumasa, a Seattle friend of Bwamu’s.
The father of two had a passion for music. He was a DJ in Seattle, sharing African and Kenyan music with diverse audiences. Stephen Ekatan, a long-time friend from the east coast, said Bwamu would always have him listen to the music he created before publishing it.
"Anything to do with music, DJ-ing, making beats, rapping," said Ekatan. "He means a lot to me. His was a life so beautifully lived. Our only solace is that we have all these fond memories of him."
It is a cultural tradition for Kenyans to be buried in their native land. However, due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, Bwamu’s family said they may have to consider alternatives.
The GoFundMe donations will cover funeral expenses. The rest of the money will support his children. The page ends with a special note to those who cared for Bwamu in his final moments.
"Thank you to all who supported him here or elsewhere this past month. Doug’s loved ones are very thankful for all of the love they have received during this difficult time! They are also very grateful for the excellent medical care Doug received— moreover the nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists the CNA’s who fought around the clock with him."