When the world stopped last March, Mohamed Ibrahim was enjoying the perks of college life on a study-abroad trip in Copenhagen, Denmark. The University of Minnesota junior then traveled home to Maryland and dutifully supported a frontline worker serving in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Mo’s mother, Latoya Ibrahim, has been treating patients with COVID-19 in her two jobs as a registered nurse in a Baltimore hospital and a Solomons, Md., nursing home. She welcomed her son back from Europe by first stressing safety.
“She wouldn’t even hug me at first,” the Gophers running back said in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “She normally hugs me when she first sees me, but … she made me wash my hands, put gloves on. The surgical masks, before I even knew what they were, she put it on me. She was introducing me to new stuff, just taking precautions and (discussing) the rules I have to do to live with her.”
When the University’s spring semester went to online learning and Gophers football spring practices were cancelled last spring, Ibrahim stayed home and helped shuttle his mother to work and his two younger sisters, Khadijah, 13, and Fatima, 18, off to school.
“He helped me a whole lot,” Latoya said. “He would drop me off at work and he would pick me up. He would tell me to go to sleep and when it was time for work. He was really there.”
Latoya has been a nurse for 20 years, specializing in tracheostomy and ventilators, meaning she is in need with this acute respiratory illness. In the spring, that meant very long work hours.
Latoya said she always felt like she had enough personal protective equipment to feel safe and has not tested positive for COVID-19. She knows she has been lucky compared to those she has treated, but said she hasn’t lost a direct patient.
“It’s hard because when you can’t breathe, you have anxiety,” Latoya said. “You have to reassure them that it’s OK. You have to calm them down. They have anxiety. They become agitated. So you have to have a lot of patience and make sure they are OK. Reassure them so they can breathe.”
Latoya’s bed-side manner is always a focus, she emphasized, but now more than ever because COVID-19 patients can’t see friends or loved ones from their beds out of concerns over spreading the disease.
“We became their everything,” Latoya said. “We had to keep people away so they won’t catch it. It can feel isolating, but you don’t want them to be isolated.”
When Mo drove Latoya to work, which sometimes took as long as two hours one way to Solomons, he would hear stories, including about how she would have a patient look out the window to see their friends.
“It’s tough just knowing that you can’t see nobody as a patient and you are in a rough time like this,” Mo said. “My mom, she has an open heart and she is willing to do anything to help people out.”
Mo said he has been nervous for his mother’s health and is thankful she has not contracted COVID. While it has been a trying time, there have been positives in the Ibrahim house, with them celebrating the purchase of a new home this week. And Latoya is staying on top of Mo while he is in Minnesota.
The tailback is having a banner season. Going into Friday’s game against Purdue at TCF Bank Stadium, he leads the Big Ten in rushing with 178 yards per game.
Ibrahim has totaled more than 200 yards and four touchdowns in several games this season, including with Latoya in the stands against the Terrapins in Maryland on Oct. 30. But Latoya has kept him in check.
“Even after a good game I will have, she will call me and be like, ‘What happened on this play? Why did you do this?’ ” Mo said. “She will always find something to critique.”
That goes back years, from when she overlooked all the As and Bs on Mo’s report card to focus on the one C.
“He always says, ‘You don’t say good job,’ ” Latoya shared. “I say Mohamed, ‘I know you did a good job.’ I don’t want that to go to his head. He is humble, but I try to keep him that way.”
Mo said his mother’s giving nature has shaped him. He won Minnesota’s Paul Giel Award for unselfishness last season. And earlier this year, Minnesota offensive lineman Blaise Andries praised the way Ibrahim goes out of his way to show appreciation for the line’s dirty work up front.
“Being a nurse, you kind of just forget everything and care for everybody else and not worry about yourself,” Mo said. “I think she installed that into me early. To a point where I don’t worry about myself. It’s more about how others around me feel, and that will just make me feel better at the end of the day.”
What Latoya also has ingrained in her son is an understanding of COVID-19’s severity. She has stressed that Mo — and others — wear face masks, maintain good hygiene and keep social distance.
“She has been on the front line, and you hear stories about people passing and things like that, people that she knew or comes close to in work,” Mo said. “When it first came out, you heard stories about how people thought it was fake and it’s not real and X, Y and Z. And her being there and seeing it go down and understanding that it’s a very real situation and that you need to take care of yourself. Because you don’t know the long-term risk of it all.”