June 24, 2021

Lee Evans must not die

Lee Evans must not die

Olympic medalist and Olympic Project for Human Rights advocate, Lee Evans, educating the younger ones Photo: David Schmitz

The above is the title of my broadcast on social media two days ago. I am repeating it here only as a guide to what has developed since then. The article generated global interest except in the sports fraternity in Nigeria that does not seem to appreciate enormity of the matter, or the global citizen involved.

Even athletes that he groomed, or guided, to achieve their successes in international sports were discussing other pedestrian issues rather than join in expressing some concern, or even just escalating the issue of the health situation of a co-Olympian whose technical contributions to sports and to the lives of many of the most successful Nigerian athletes is almost unprecedented in the country’s history.

We can forgive the younger generation of athletes for their ignorance of the personality around them in Lee Evans, but, surely, not the older generation that were beneficiaries of his work and times in Nigerian athletics.

There have been new and relieving developments in the last 24 hours, but one has to read through yesterday’s article to appreciate them in context.

Mr. Lee Edward Evans is dying. Yet, he must not die without being given every chance to live. Particularly because he is an American, the greatest country in the world, a world renowned former athlete and coach, an American sports hero, and a member of the USA Athletics Hall of Fame.

During his years running in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was a ‘god’, loved and celebrated around the world. Lee was what Usain Bolt became at his most popular, but short of the flamboyance, publicity and the fortunes of the present days.

Lee Edward Evans was the first human to break the 44-seconds barrier for the 400 metres event when he was just 21. Thereafter, he broke 11 world records over different distances during his career as a sprints athlete. When he broke the World record in 400 metres for the last time it was at the 1968 Olympic Games where he won two solid Gold medals. That record stood for 20 years and was only broken by Michael Johnson who had to cover the distance at an almost, humanly impossible even-pace unseen before, or since, in athletics.

Lee’s second Olympic Gold medal was in the 4 × 400 m relay race.
After his career as an athlete Lee became one of the greatest sprints coaches in the world, following the template of his coach and mentor, another Hall of Famer, Lloyd Bud Winters. Lee has travelled the world working in different countries including Nigeria where he worked the longest and has coached a legion of some of Nigeria’s greatest athletes in history. He is a pioneer member of the Olympic project for Human Rights.

In short, Lee Edward Evans is a true American legendary sports hero. He has been supporting me now for two years as a volunteer coach of young boys and girls at the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy, SOCA, in Wasimi Orile, Ogun State, and transforming young lives positively.

I am writing this on Wednesday night In Abeokuta. I have just returned from probably the best hospital in Ogun State, Nigeria, at the moment – Babcock University Teaching hospital, Ilishan.

Lee Evans is lying in the Emergency ward of the hospital, attached to several tubes and gadgets, unconscious in the past three days.
Three days ago, we were having dinner outdoors with a few friends in Abeokuta, when he passed out suddenly on his seat at the table. It has since become a nightmarish experience. Needless to go into the details.

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Earlier today, the results of numerous tests carried out by the hospital revealed that he has suffered an unusual kind of stroke, with clots lodged in a blood vessel in his brain. He has not regained consciousness since then.

I was told that short of a miracle there is little more the hospital can do for him from the prognosis. At best it will manage him and provide palliative.

For two days, with no access to the contacts on his phone, I was lost, unable to contact his family abroad. In the last few hours, with the help of a few of his American friends and some Nigerian former athletes, I have now made contact with his children in the US.

Yet, I am still alone here trying to manage the critical health situation of one of the greatest athletes not just in American history, but in the world’s, within the extremely limited Nigerian healthcare system.

The past 24 hours have been traumatic. I finally managed to reach a duty officer in the American Embassy in Lagos and reported Lee’s condition. Unfortunately, the embassy is not operating regular service as a result of the 2-days Ramadan holiday, so I could not accomplish much. I am required to keep updating the embassy on his condition.

As I write this, however, I am at my wits end. I just left the man lying unconsciousness on a bed in Ilishan, on life-support, medical tubes all over his body, an oxygen tank by his bed, breathing apparatus covering his face, indicating that he is now on life-support, and the resignation on the faces of the hardworking medical teams in the Babcock University Teaching Hospital working hard to make him as comfortable as possible, telling their own story.

The man must not die this cheaply. No one dies like a chicken in America anymore. That should not happen to any citizen of the most advanced country in the world, least of all their own citizen, a hero and celebrated global sports ambassador. America owes itself the responsibility to get Lee Evans to the best medical facility on earth in the United States, immediately.

Some 15 years ago, or so, my mother was diagnosed with cancer at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, sent back home with me, and given a maximum of six months to live. She was in her 80s.

Wole and Toyin, my younger siblings, insisted we disregard the prognosis, give her the opportunity of a secondary opinion and better healthcare system, and bring her to the UK. That is what we did in faith.

It took a few surgeries and treatment, but in the end, with modern medicine and technology, 11 months in and out of hospital, the miracle happened, and our mother returned to Nigeria completely whole again. She lived for 11 additional years before she eventually died.

My mother is the source of my present hope in the medical ‘miracles’. But every expected miracle must be preceded by a step of faith.
That is what I humbly ask of the American Government now – to step in immediately and evacuate Lee Evans to the United States of America and give him a chance to survive his present, critical medical situation. To waste any time beyond the immediate will not be good enough. To leave him in Nigeria is to sign his death warrant.

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Lee’s life matters. He can be saved if the United States government acts TODAY!

Postscript
It has been over 24 hours since I wrote the lines above this. In that time things have taken a dramatic and incredible turn. If there is any doubt in my mind that America is the greatest country in the world, the last ounce evaporated with the developments on the Lee Evans’ matter in the past 24 hours.

With the help of some Nigerian former athletes living in the United States, all of whose lives were impacted by Lee, I made contact with two of Lee’s children. They have swung into action immediately.

I also reached out to the American embassy in Lagos ( and they have also reached out to me too since then) and had a robust conversation with the officials who left an indelible impression on me.

Rather than the snotty and offish attitude that many people usually ascribe to officials of the embassy during visa interviews, the officers I spoke to, Brian and Maureen, were extremely warm, concerned, patient and sympathetic as I relayed Lee’s situation. They asked several questions, requested for some information and left me confident that when work resumed on Friday, things would start to fly. I did not have to wait that long for things to already. I can testify that I did not have to wait that long before things happening around me. America is great o!!

I gave two of his grown-up children the report of my interaction with the embassy and the steps they needed to take to advance urgent action. They too have brought in other Lee’s siblings and action is ongoing.

Lee Evans is an Olympian of great repute. He belongs to several elite athletes groups. His closest friends in the former-athletes circuit are pulling out all the stops to access packages for retired athletes in dire conditions, a model Nigeria must take lessons from in designing her own structures.

The common thread in all the actions being taken is the singular consideration that Lee Evans must not die unless all possible options in getting him to live are exhausted.

I spent most of Thursday night till dawn talking to various Concerned Americans, answering questions and taking guidance as to what I needed to do.

The big question now is this: in his present condition is it safe to fly him out of the country, even if it is in an Air Ambulance? If not, what would be the next best option?

As I write this, I am on my way to Ilishan, to ask the questions and seek opinions from the medical consultants at the Babcock University Teaching Hospital.

A whole army of Lee’s friends, former athletes and colleagues in various countries around the world have risen and are aligning with the plans being put in place by the family, his siblings in America and the American embassy in Nigeria.

There is no lack of anything needed to take care of Lee’s present and future state. All these developments are comforting and the public should disregard any public appeals by anybody for funds for Lee’s care.

On Lee ‘s current status, let me assure all that he is stable and not in any obvious distress. He is as in a very deep sleep in the Intensive Care Unit of Babcock University Teaching Hospital, Ilishan, receiving the best care possible in the environment. He has the full weight of his family, his friends, the American Government, and his adopted country, Nigeria, behind him.

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