‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Retired doctor described as ‘gentle giant’ who said he had the power to help COVID patients


Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Tribune, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at tribtown.com.

Name: Dr. Okechi Nwabara

City/Town: Gary

Age: 68

Died: Jan. 4

Dr. Okechi Nwabara was known by family and friends as both a warrior and a gentle giant who freely gave bear hugs.

Nwabara, 68, died Jan. 4 from complications due to COVID-19, said his daughter, Olaocha Nwabara.

“I guess what is resounding was he was a healer as a doctor medically, socially and spiritually. … His heart was wide open, and he understood that that helps heal as much as medicine,” she said.

Although her father could have retired, he chose to stay on at a Northwest Indiana hospital to fight what he termed the war against COVID-19.

“He told me, ‘I have the power to help, so how can I sit this out? End of conversation.’ He worked until his final breath. He didn’t take any breaks. I will forever know he went out like a warrior — strong but gentle,” Olaocha Nwabara said.

Dr. Nwabara, who served as a local physician for almost 40 years, was born in Umuahia, Nigeria, on Dec. 2, 1952.

He came to the United States in 1970, joining his mother and siblings who were already in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

He graduated with his medical degree in December 1980 from the University of Michigan’s Medical School in Ann Arbor, did his rotating internship followed by residency in internal medicine at Wayne State University Hospital, Detroit, and finished in 1984.

Nwabara then held a practice in Gary and worked in hospitals and nursing homes throughout Northwest Indiana for almost 40 years.

Stephanie Spencer, a nurse practitioner who worked with Nwabara at both Northlake and Southlake Methodist Hospital campuses in Gary and Merrillville, said, “To know him was to love him.”

Spencer said working with Nwabara “changed her life in so many ways.”

She recalled her last conversation with him in which he was pushing for her to get her COVID-19 vaccine shot.

“I can’t believe he is gone. One of the nurses referred to him as a gift we could not keep,” Spencer said.

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