What happened to Lawubah Weale

My last memory of a lost brother from childhood

By James Kokulo Fasuekoi in Eden Prairie, Minnesota

Lawubah (fourth from left) looks on as the bride walked in during
               author's wedding last October

His name is Lawubah Pewee Wealeh but some from his hometown Yeala, Lofa County, called him by his childhood name which is “Pewee.” Personally, I used to call him “Pewu” (just like most Yeala folks do), while he called me “Labay,” a popular name affectionately given me by peers from childhood. But Wealeh passed away Wednesday, June 11th at 3: am, MN time after a brief “illness” which doctors at United Hospital, St. Paul, MN, now described as a “very rare condition.”  He turned 50 last January.

Lawubah Wealeh was a holder of a bachelor degree in Business Accounting and a 2008 graduate from the University of Liberia, Republic of Liberia. He began his primary education at the Yeala Public School (Y.P.S.), before moving on to the Anttonentt Tubman Elementary School (ATS) in Zorzor City, Lofa County, and later, Monrovia. Friends and relatives described him as a person who was very active in community activities in Liberia. They said, Lawubah headed the men’s department of his church, Macedonia Baptist Church in Pensyville, for many years. In addition, his widow, Lorpu Kortimai Wealeh, of Edmund Ave, St. Paul, MN, said, Lawubah was head of the church’s building project and received honor as “Father of the Year” several times prior to their migration to the United States less than two years ago.
Commenting on Lawubah’s medical condition a day prior to his death, the head of medical surgeons, Dr. Hartz said the following:  “His condition is very rare and it has defiled medical science and the present technology we have.” Dr. Hartz headed a team of medical experts that included brains, liver, bones, heart and kidney specialists that scrambled for weeks to keep Lawubah Wealeh alive after his re-admission at United Hospital. “I have never seen this type of condition in all my 20 years of practice,” the surgeon said as he briefed the family in what seemed a preparation for the worse possible scenario. Other surgeons present, some with 10 to 15 years of experience in the medical field were equally amazed particularly at the illness’ rapid progression and the complications it caused other internal organs like the lung, liver, heart and kidneys, eventually forcing all to shut down.

In one instance, hours after Lawubah received surgery; an alarm went off in Room #3946 where Lawubah lay unconscious. It happened just as we family members had approached the nurses’ station trying to make our way into the room to see how the patient was doing. Within seconds, the room got overcrowded with doctors and nurses as they carefully checked the various instruments including tubes and life-support equipment attached to his frail body. It turned out a nurse attending to him had set off the emergency alarm to get help when he noticed Lawubah was having “convulsion.” The state of Minnesota according to research has some of the highly sophisticated and best rated hospitals in the United States and United Hospital is said to have some of the best trained medical doctors. And the fact that they could not readily diagnose the illness indicated the severity of the matter.

At the time of death, a series of medical examination conducted by United Hospital doctors over a period of a month and half yielded negatives with not a single clue as to what may have resulted to such complications. The experience prompted doctors at the hospital to seek consent of Lawubah’s family so they can perform an autopsy which might help medical scientists determine possible causes of the illness as well as prevent similar nightmare in in patients in the future. Initially, this started like a “cold,” accompanied by the loss of weight and appetite, said the deceased’s wife, Mrs. Lorpu Wealeh of St. Paul, Minnesota. That precursor led the couple to the United Hospital and a couple of tests were conducted. However, Lawubah, she said, was treated for cold before being released. After that a hospital physician made a routine visit to their residence, checked and treated him but his condition, Lorpu said, only continued to deteriorate.

By June 3rd, Lawubah reportedly collapsed at home while using the restroom. His wife reported he threw up several times and appeared weak. An ambulance rushed them to the hospital and he was admitted in the emergency ward. As doctors placed him on observation, a series of examinations was performed in an attempt to find the cause(s) of the illness. But like the initial tests conducted during their first visit in May, all turned out negative, his wife hinted, showing me the results. Suddenly Lawubah lost his speech but before then, he’s said to have briefly struggled in his hospital bed and shouted names of few familiar faces in what appeared to be a state of hallucination. Meantime, readings in his blood pressure and body temperature kept fluctuating at an alarming level and at certain point his pressure rose “extremely high” while his HGB, WBC, dropped to a dangerously low level and that eventually placed more stress on the heart forcing it to go slow.

Sunday June 8, the pastor of the Universal Christian Ministries (UCM) located in St. Paul, MN, Bishop Fatai Jubril approached me about Lawubah’s health and asked how he was doing? “His condition hasn’t stabilized yet,” I told him. He promised to go with me to the hospital and pray for him after church’s service. Pastor Jubril is a powerful man of God and very humble despite his big titles. His church’s membership consists of nationals from 23 countries of the world, largely from the U.S., East and West Africa, and people queue daily at the sanctuary to meet him. Besides, he hosts double service Sundays and Tuesdays, plus three night vigils a week. With such engagement, having him to visit someone at the hospital was to me impossible hence I felt ecstatic when he personally volunteered to go and see Lawubah.

At the hospital a miracle was certainly happening in Room # 3946 in that Lawubah who had been in coma for a week regained consciousness and was reported to have even asked if there was any “chaplain” around so the person could pray with him. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any and after being awake for a while he slipped back into coma again and just about that time we arrived. A nurse that greeted us was happy, and remarked: “You guys came right on time.” She explained how Lawubah had regained consciousness and was hoping to get a “Chaplin to pray with him.” We surrounded his bed and as we prayed he opened his eyes, stared as if wanting to say a word but closed them again. His wife later joined us and that was probably the last time he opened his eyes broad.         

By Monday, June 9, much had not changed however and his body was still not receptive to blood transfusion. Doctors then decided to do a surgery in the abdomen, believing it would reverse the situation from what seemingly was becoming a “hopeless situation.” It seemed like a final option to remedy a tough problem. After the “operation” everything appeared promising and we kept going in and out of his room to observe his condition. But soon, things change again for worst. The bleeding that had ceased considerably following the surgery resumed as surgeons fought hard to figure out how. But the most terrifying moment was Tuesday; a day after the operation when Lawubah’s both kidneys gave up at once. A dialysis was initiated right away by a kidney specialist but his body rejected it just as the procedure was begun.    

After those exhausting moments, doctors assigned to Lawubah tried to find way to hold a family briefing concerning what next to expect. From the facial expression of the doctors and nurses, I could sense that the “news” wasn’t going to be a “promising” one. My suspicion was it could be the type that we relatives, friends and well-wishers have been praying against or so I thought. Being a former war correspondent I learned to persevere in situations like this when all hopes seem to be fading away. In Lawubah’s case however, my biggest fear was Lorpu; how would she cope, and what would be her reaction in the event the unthinkable happens? I couldn’t stop thinking and worrying because, I know how difficult it can be for many closed couples when one leaves the other so early-and here we had two young couple.  

Wealeh and Lorpu had come a very long way and their story is more of a success kind; a story that is all too familiar among the young folks of Yeala. The two started their relationship back home ever since they were teenagers and later married by the time they grew into adulthood. It is a love story that spins over 29 years and with all their ups and downs, they always stuck together. In all, their children are six children; three girls and three boys. This means Lorpu has actually lived more than half her life with Lawubah and being so used to someone to such extend can be very devastating to learn your partner isn’t going to live. That is why Lorpu grieved so much for days that her eyes turned red from sleepless nights by her husband’s hospital bedside. Surrounded by nervous looking peers, the head doctor struggled to start the conversation, knowing the pains Lorpu her family were going through. Then he dropped the bomb!

“I’m sorry to say that he [Lawubah] will not make it...it might happen in the next hour, or days.” He hastened to add, “But that doesn’t mean we have given up on him…we will continue to do our best for him just as we’ve been doing till the end.” That sad disclosure had us speechless and it nearly caused Lorpu to faint. She broke down in tears and weep deeply: “God why let this happen to me?” “He’s my everything…before doing anything, he will first of all ask me, ‘Ma,’ what do you want us to do?”  “If you take him who will ever love me like him?”  Turning to the deceased, she went on: “You spoiled me and your children…if you leave us who will take care of us like you?” As she cried, stared at their wedding and family photos she had in her purse.   Someone had to help me lift her off the floor and with our hands under her arms; we led her into Room #3947, the waiting area assigned to Lawubah’s visitors. For the most part I felt angry-for what other consolation could I offer her when I had persistently assured her that Lawubah would survive?

In our Lorma culture, people don’t break death news this way. Extreme caution is given to the way such news is delivered, irrespective of the deceased’s age or status in the society. News of this nature is kept secret from the deceased’s partner and kids, and depending on the individual’s societal background it might even take days before disclosure. Besides, careful thought is also given to the time and place in particular the “bad news” must be released. It cannot be delivered in the heat of day as was in this case with Lorpu and her family. For whatever reason Lorma culture treats death news that way I can’t tell! However, we cannot complain because, realistically speaking, United Hospital is thousands of miles away from Lofa. One thing I couldn’t escape though is the question: “What happened to all our prayers?” The couple’s young children back home in Liberia are very prayerful and I had wished I had kids like them. Their mother often the phone on to speaker and placed it right next to Lawubah’s ear as we prayed and their loud and little voices remained in my ears up till now. Then there is a “pastor” in Liberia I overheard had even received financial compensation to fast and pray for God’s mercy. So after all those efforts, is this how it would all end? I asked myself out of frustration. But again, who are we to question God; for He says, we should give thanks for all that happens!

Alongside the puzzles this “unexplained condition” has created here for the medical community, there is another theory of a “spiritual” nature that some of the couple’s relatives are looking into and think it may hold some connection to Lawubah’s sudden death and that’s “African magic power” otherwise, bewitchment.  African magic power is a form of ritual during which a witchdoctors would try to conjure one’s soul and replace same with “death” or a terminal illness. This happens once your enemy takes your name, usually your photograph, a string of hair, or any other item like clothing that contains your DNA, to a voodoo man. The voodoo man would then use his or her supernatural power to capture the targeted person’s spirit often through dreams or while he’s asleep. Hence, the series of unexplained medical complications in Lawubah’s case, in addition to dreams held by his wife plus a relative while he was sick all seem to give credence to this theory.   

For instance, prior to his death, the deceased’s wife and I took him to a local deliverance church May 30th with hope there could come some revelations regarding his illness. It was the Friday weekly night vigil at the Universal Christian Ministries (UCM) in St. Paul, MN. As the worship went on amidst dancing and praises to LORD Jesus Christ, its general overseer, Bishop and Prophet Fatai Olushula Jubril interrupted with a prophesy that “someone among us tonight,” had sent money home to Africa with instruction that the “money should be divided among three persons.” Of the three who received the money, one, the prophet said, used his portion “against the sender.” Be careful, I have told you that before you send money to your people in Africa, first pray over it,” he admonished members of his congregation. After that prophesy the pastor didn’t ask any further as to who the affected person might be but only remarked that “God reveals to redeem and I belief the LORD wants to cure whoever that person is tonight,” and continued his sermon.

When I had returned to my seat the ailing brother, Lawubah pinched my elbow and whispered the prophesy was for him, and said, it happened exactly just as the pastor had narrated. He was shock and said to me that he hasn’t even informed his wife, or anyone about the money. Their younger son, Harris sat between him and his wife, and as we spoke in low voices, I encouraged him to give a testimony at the end of the service. Later, Lawubah gave a testimony concerning how the money was sent unknown to his wife, and pointed out: “My problem started after I sent that last money.” By then, the illness had taken hold of him; his good looking feature had sharply changed to the point he became unrecognizable by some people who had seen him during my wedding in the same church six months earlier. They only started to recognize him after told the congregation he was one of the groomsmen in the wedding. “But see how I look now…this is the work of the enemy.” He was showered with words of encouragement followed by a vigorous prayer over him by the church’s “prayer warriors. In the end, he threw his fists into the air with all his might and praised Jesus! 

According to Lawubah’s wife, she had a dream just about the time her husband started feeling sick. The dream, she told few family members (including this writer) goes like this: She spotted two men who fought to force a man into a coffin. She said, the man too fought back with all his strength but in the end he was overpowered. Still, she said the man forced into the casket won’t let the men close the lite and that took another round of struggle. “It was like they took the casket and put it on our bed,” she narrated. The only time the lite closed, she maintained, was after one of the men “jumped and sat on top of it and the friend too sat next to him.” She said, she didn’t see the face of the man that was attacked but she kept crying out for help but no one was around to stop the aggressors. That isn’t all; a second dream by a relative apparently connected to Lawubah happened just as the surgery was about to start and it centered on a “broken bridge” that never stands when fixed. Eventually, the “bridge” was reconstructed, despite the confusion, with a lower level but the lower level collapsed. Yet, people hoped it was a positive dream.  

A kindhearted couple, the two worked very hard over the years, trying to make ends meet. In all their ups and downs, Lawubah and his sweetheart Lorpu remained very generous to those of their less fortunate family members, particularly Lawubah’s parents. She confirmed they hosted close to 20 people from Lawubah’s father household, uprooted by war from Lofa at their Jacob Town residence in Monrovia during and after the war years. Imagine the stress of hosting such number of displaced in addition to your own six children with barely an income. Even when the MCC authorities evicted Lawubah and thousands others from their Waterside, sidewalk marketing, (their main source of income for nearly 30 years), Lorpu said, they both turned to gardening in order to sustain the family; and through it they both made it through the University of Liberia and graduated the same year, 2008, each with a bachelor degree in Business Accounting. Lawubah was certainly a “bridge” to his family and with such generosity, many are questioning who then would want to bewitch or kill him.           

Just late last October 25, Lawubah and I stayed awake for much of the night, talking about our fascinating childhood life in Yeala where we both started primary education. This happened on the eve of my wedding and we were the only two that showed up at the Marriott Hotel that overlooks Interstate Highway 694, where I had rented a suit for the groomsmen. It was the first time in 25 to 30 years that Lawubah and I were spending a night together for the last time this happened was in 1984, the year of my graduation from high school, at the time we both were young and engaged in communal farming known as “Koo.” The failure of the other groomsmen to show up at the hotel gave us ample time to reflect our old days. It was a cheerful moment for us and the conversation went on and on with deep excitement and a sense of nostalgia.

“Labay, can you imagine those days when we were growing up in Yeala, none of us ever thought we would come to America someday,” he remarked as I nodded in agreement. And he was actually right in every sense for after all, many of our peers and playmates who went to school with us died along the way and there were so many factors that led to all that. It basically was a rough childhood; and like me, Lawubah often spent the night in his parent’s village, awoke 5: am, and traveled miles and miles on foot via narrowed bush paths to attend school in town. After class, he would run back the village and help parents with farm work. Looking back therefore upon such a village life we left behind, I couldn’t help but show deep appreciation for life and thank God just as Lawubah.

Our people, the Lormas, have this proverb that “Zeepeh,” meaning, “Talk,” should be carefully prepared like a food before dishing it out. That’s how late Brother Lawubah Wealeh treated life and people around him. He never gave harsh words to people even in the wake of temptation. Though older than him few months, he always treated me with honor and respect and saw me as road model. During our night at the hotel, he talked about driving his own car “bearing U.S. plate” to our hometown, Yeala, as I did during my 2011 visit. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to do so. Thinking about our conversation, I managed to control my tears, walked back to Room #3946 with his young cousin, Vanessa, and began to photograph everything in that room, the “Get well balloons,” doctors’ charts, medical computer gadgets and a wall clock, in remembrance of my last moments with him hours before he was removed.

Lawubah leaves to mourn his wife Lorpu Kortimai Wealeh, their six children; his father, Old man Wealeh; many sisters, brothers and cousins in China, Norway, Middle East, USA, and a host of sisters and brothers in laws, among them, former Lofa County Superintendent, Mr. Galakpai W. Kortimai; former deputy minister for Ministry of Commence, Prof. Lavela Kortimai; and former teacher, now lawyer, Cllr. Sam Kortimai of Liberia.

Funeral services will take place from 9: AM to 12: PM Saturday June 28, 2014 at a local church in Brooklyn Park (to be named later), follow by burial at 1:30PM at the Mound Cemetery, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Wake keeping will take place Friday evening, June 27th, in the same edifice where the funeral will take place. Sympathizers may contact the following names in the U.S. to register condolences: Mr. Samuel Tokpa, 763-439-2215; Emmanuel, 651-233-9524; Tony, 651-755-7535; Joe Roberts, 651-3311974; and Fasuekoi, 952-212-1420.