Covid-19 Takes Brother


November 20th, 2020

Sabino Garcia. Leon’s brother. Photo by KVNO News

OMAHA – The devastation left by the COVID-19 pandemic can be found everywhere, affecting almost everyone in one way or other.

Leon Garcia Lopez left Guatemala almost 13 years ago and arrived in Alabama to work and provide for his family.

“Yes, he was my brother. He was born 1969…sixty-five? I am a bit confused.”

On August 11, at the age of 55, Leon lost the battle against COVID-19 in a hospital in Alabama. Sabino Garcia Lopez is one of Leon’s two younger brothers. He lives in Omaha and had been receiving phone calls to update him on his brother’s health. On the morning of August 11, Sabino received the call that doctors tried to revive his brother, but it was not enough.

Just weeks before, Sabino had spoken to his brother on the phone. until they want

“Before the COVID-19 hit hard I talked to him, and I asked him how he was,” Sabino said. “He told me that everything was fine at that time, but at his word there were already two people infected with COVID. Then he did not speak to me again.”

Four weeks after the two brothers last conversation, Leon’s wife from Guatemala called Sabino here in Omaha and asked him to investigate; the last she knew, her husband had been hospitalized, very sick from the effects of COVID-19.

Leon lived with a friend and his son in law and worked in a sawmill. He spent five weeks in the hospital. While he was there, he had some good days, according to the information the hospital provided Sabino. Leon was hooked up to a ventilator during his last week.

Here in Omaha, it took Sabino some time to locate his brother. The only thing he knew was that Leon had been hospitalized two hours away from where he lived. He started making phone calls to the hospitals nearby. After Sabino received the news, it was just the beginning of the hard process of repatriating his brother’s ashes to Guatemala.

Sabino and one other brother who lives in Omaha agreed to pay for the transfer of their brothers remains to his place of origin.

“To send his ashes over there since we did not have any financial support from the Guatemalan council,” Sabino said.

The hospital in Alabama put pressure on Sabino to remove the remains from the hospital or the remains of his brother would be treated as if no one had claimed them. The Guatemala council based in Atlanta did not respond soon enough and Sabino had to make the decision. Then he located a Funeral Home in Atlanta that would take care of the cremation for a cost of approximately $5000.

Sabino and his other brother agreed to share the cost, but then his brother injured his foot at work, leaving him disabled to work for some time. For him, getting $5000 together was quite difficult. Some friends advised him to start a GoFundMe page, but it did not work. Then Sabino opted for a method that is common within the migrant community.

He painted some small cardboard boxes, pasted a picture of his brother Leon on them and in just a few lines wrote what had happened and asked for financial help. Similar boxes can be found in some small businesses in South Omaha.

“It has been very difficult with the whole situation of the pandemic because it has affected my relatives in Guatemala, and I had to try to help them financially. That is why I have not been able to get all their money necessary here.” Sabino said. “They cannot work because the transportation system shut down.”

Leon Sabino. Money Collecting box. Photo by KVNO News

The system of the boxes helped Sabino to collect almost $3000. The day I interviewed Sabino, he mentioned that he was only about $500 short of paying the funeral home in Atlanta.

“I still have some boxes to collect,” Sabino said. “My family there is very desperate.”

Sabino knows how dangerous this pandemic is; here in Omaha, he also lost two good friends. He recommends everyone takes it very seriously.

“Don’t do activities with many people if you do not celebrate birthdays nothing happens we must stop this disease and we can help,” Sabino said.

When Sabino went to Alabama to pick up his brother’s belongings, it was a difficult day for him, knowing that he will not see Leon again. Sabino remembers his brother as he was when they lived in Guatemala. He says Leon used to take Sabino to work with them, collecting scrap metal.

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