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Mystery illness claims Sudanese mother

Tassabeh Yagoub, 7, holds a photo of her mother, Khadiga Ibrahim, 36, a refugee from Sudan who died Friday at Community Hospital in New Port Richey.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Tassabeh Yagoub, 7, holds a photo of her mother, Khadiga Ibrahim, 36, a refugee from Sudan who died Friday at Community Hospital in New Port Richey.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Only days ago, as her body grew weaker, Khadiga Ibrahim spoke of Sudan again.

She spoke of the home she left behind, of her belief that someone there might know how to cure her mysterious disease.

But the $1,500 a nephew raised to fulfill her wish won't pay for a return flight. Instead, it will go toward burying her body here.

Khadiga, 36, died Friday (Feb. 6, 2009) at Community Hospital, her family said. The cause of death remains unknown.

"It's like she say, 'My body can't be alive any more,' " said her husband, Ibrahim Yagoub. (Khadiga used her husband's first name as her surname.)

It was the latest blow — by far the harshest one — to Yagoub and their five children, ages 7 to 18, whom the St. Petersburg Times profiled in late December.

The family of Sudanese refugees, who were brought to Pasco County by a relief agency, found themselves caught up in the same financial crisis as so many other Americans.

Yagoub, who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, got laid off last year from his job with a sprinkler company. He could no longer afford the two mortgages on the Hillandale Estates home, and last year the lender foreclosed.

Other Sudanese refugees pitched in to help pay the deposit and first month's rent at a New Port Richey apartment complex while Yagoub searched for a job.

But in the meantime, Khadiga had fallen ill with a disease that left her body swollen and painful, her legs at times useless. She couldn't eat. She became withdrawn, listless at times from the pain medications.

The worst part? No one could say what was wrong with her.

"It was one of the most frustrating things in my life," said Dr. Glenn Kwiat, who treated Khadiga at Community Hospital.

Community and Tampa General Hospital, where she stayed for nearly a month, ran tons of tests. Nothing. Kwiat said doctors even tested for diseases not typically seen in the United States, such as malaria. Still nothing.

Some doctors had suggested some of her problems might be psychosomatic. But Kwiat said that didn't explain why one of her arms once swelled to three times its normal size.

Khadiga was buried the day after her death in a place called Sunset Memory Gardens, in Hillsborough County. Muslim tradition calls for a quick burial, her husband said.

An autopsy might have helped answer questions about her death, but because the Medical Examiner's Office did not order one, the family would have had to foot the bill. Besides not having the money for that, Khadiga's father back in Sudan asked Yagoub not to allow it.

"She is finished in this world," said Yagoub. "We can't do nothing more."

Just a week ago, Yagoub found a $7-an-hour job as a maintenance worker at Innisbrook. When someone called him Friday with the news, his supervisor drove him to the hospital.

Kwiat, the doctor, drove over to Gulf High School to tell the two oldest girls, Awatif, 18, and Shadia, 16.

"I couldn't move," Awatif said Monday. "My heart was beating, beating. In my heart, I knew it was my mom."

Shadia lowered her face, and the tears slipped off her cheeks.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Mystery illness claims Sudanese mother 02/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 1:51am]
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