Dr. Youssef Al-Begamy is being remembered for making everyone he met feel like his best friend.
"That's the impression that he leaves on anybody … that's his character," close friend and colleague Fauzi Ramadan told CBC News at a prayer service Monday night.
Al-Begamy, a 48-year-old Saskatchewan family and emergency room physician, died of COVID-19 complications early Sunday morning, Ramadan confirmed.
The doctor was among the first Saskatchewan intensive care patients transferred to Ontario for treatment amid the province's fourth-wave bed crunch, Ramadan said. Since Al-Begamy had no family in Saskatchewan, Ramadan acted as his next of kin.
Once the doctor was moved to a hospital in Toronto, Ramadan kept track of his friend's declining condition — always making sure to update his family back home in Saudi Arabia.
"We all feel sad. It's a tragic loss," Ramadan said. "It's as though I lost a son. It's not easy."
Plans are underway to have Al-Begamy's body transported to Saudi Arabia for the burial — as per his mother's request.
'A very special person'
Marvin Huber, Al-Begamy's friend and frequent handyman, was one of dozens of people who attended a prayer service at the Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Masjid mosque in Moose Jaw Monday night.
He said he remembers speaking to the doctor just hours before he was put on a ventilator last month.
"He told me he was ready and that he's accepted the fact that this might be the end," Huber said, adding Al-Begamy asked for prayers.
"It was just devastating."
Brad Thorpe, who worked with Al-Begamy years ago in the Moose Jaw emergency department, said he was also in touch with his friend shortly before he was intubated.
He said he wished Al-Begamy well via text message and received back three emojis: a heart, a thumbs up and prayer hands.
Thorpe noted he's remembering the doctor as someone who was "full of life" and always friendly.
"When you were being treated as a patient or whether you were standing next to him as a friend, you always felt like you were the most important person in the room," he explained. "He was a very special person … a man who made a difference."
Family doctor urges vaccination
Sources tell CBC News that Al-Begamy was not immunized against COVID-19 and did not agree with vaccine mandates.
As a family doctor, Thorpe said he wants people to understand that no one — no matter how healthy or active they are — is immune to the virus.
"If there's anything we could learn from this, it's to take it seriously," he advised. "My take home message is: vaccinate, wear your mask, physically distance — and listen to people when they ask you to do these things."