Get BlazeTV
News

‘Wanted to Marry That Girl in Dallas’: The Life of the First Ebola Patient to Die in the U.S. Before the Virus Hit Him

"We thought that because he was in America ... he would be the one Liberian to survive."

FILE - This 2011 photo provided by Wilmot Chayee shows Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., at a wedding in Ghana. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Duncan was being treated for the disease, on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 said Duncan has died. (AP/Wilmot Chayee)

DALLAS (AP) — Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, grew up next to a leper colony in Liberia and fled years of war before later returning to his country to find it ravaged by the disease that ultimately took his life.

FILE - This 2011 photo provided by Wilmot Chayee shows Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., at a wedding in Ghana. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Duncan was being treated for the disease, on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 said Duncan has died. (AP/Wilmot Chayee) This 2011 photo provided by Wilmot Chayee shows Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., at a wedding in Ghana. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where Duncan was being treated for the disease, on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 said Duncan died. (AP/Wilmot Chayee)

Duncan, 42, arrived in Dallas in late September, realizing a long-held ambition to join relatives. He came to attend the high-school graduation of his son, who was born in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast and was brought to the U.S. as a toddler when the boy's mother successfully applied for resettlement.

"His son had told his mother, 'I want to see my dad. Can we help my dad to come?' And they fixed his papers to come to this country," said Duncan's brother Wilfred Smallwood, whose son, Oliver Smallwood, is quarantined with the household that hosted Duncan before he was diagnosed.

The trip was the culmination of decades of effort, friends and family members said. But when Duncan arrived in Dallas, though he showed no symptoms, he had already been exposed to Ebola. His neighbors in Liberia believe Duncan become infected when he helped a pregnant neighbor who later died from it. It was unclear if he knew about her diagnosis before traveling.

Duncan's life reflected the hardships of many Liberians who fled or endured the country's 14 years of civil war.

He grew up in a village near the Yila Mission, an American Baptist mission hospital and leper colony, according to a lifelong friend, Thomas Kwenah. Duncan later moved to a middle-class area in Monrovia for high school, according to a friend from that time, Tonia Wordsworth.

Wordsworth, who now lives in Calverton, Maryland, called Duncan a "dutiful" young man who was "like a brother."

Liberian immigrant Alfred Komala watches a CNN report on U.S. Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, in Philadelphia. Duncan, the first person diagnosed in the U.S. with Ebola, died Wednesday. (AP/Matt Rourke) Liberian immigrant Alfred Komala watches a CNN report on U.S. Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, in Philadelphia. Duncan, the first person diagnosed in the U.S. with Ebola, died Wednesday. (AP/Matt Rourke)

Duncan was 18 when warlord Charles Taylor invaded Liberia from Ivory Coast, initiating years of conflict. Duncan's half-sister, Mai Wureh, had arrived in the U.S. with her husband in 1989, shortly before Taylor's invasion, and helped her family apply for resettlement — but the application was denied.

"Mai had filed for us to leave the war zone, but after a long time, the U.S. rejected all of us," Smallwood said.

Duncan, Smallwood and other family members fled in the opposite direction from Taylor, to a refugee camp outside the Ivorian border city of Danane. It was there that Duncan met Louise Troh.

"We all lived in Ivory Coast in the refugee camp, and by 1994, they were boyfriend and girlfriend," Kwenah said.

When Troh's resettlement application was approved, she took along the couple's 3-year-old son, Karsiah, but Duncan's visa applications were denied. Along with relatives, Duncan migrated from Danane to Buduburam, a sprawling, city-like refugee camp in Ghana.

Karsiah Duncan, left, son of ebola patient Eric Duncan, exits a news conference while and unidentified friend looks on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 in Dallas. (AP/Tim Sharp) Karsiah Duncan, left, son of ebola patient Eric Duncan, exits a news conference while and unidentified friend looks on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 in Dallas, a day before his father's death. (AP/Tim Sharp)

A friend who met him there, Wilmot Chayee, said the two spent hours playing basketball or watching professional soccer.

When the camp closed in 2013, Duncan returned to Liberia, to the same area where he'd attended high school — now a slum wracked by poverty and disease — and into a small room in a private home, Wureh said. He took a job with Safeway Cargo, FedEx's shipper in Liberia, as the general manager's chauffeur.

But a year later, he was summoned to the U.S.

Duncan had recently confided, Kwenah said, that he "wanted to marry that girl in Dallas."

Duncan arrived at Troh's apartment on Sept. 20 — less than a week after helping his sick neighbor. For the nine days before he was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, Duncan shared the apartment with several people.

"We thought that because he was in America, he was safe, that he would be the one Liberian to survive," Kwenah said.

Mamie Mangoe, a friend of the Duncan family, wipes a tear away during a memorial service for Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan, on Wednesday Oct. 8, 2014 at at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. Duncan died Wednesday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. (AP/The Dallas Morning News, Nathan Hunsinger) Mamie Mangoe, a friend of the Duncan family, wipes a tear away during a memorial service for Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan, on Wednesday Oct. 8, 2014 at at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. Duncan died Wednesday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. (AP/The Dallas Morning News, Nathan Hunsinger)

Duncan's family visited him at the hospital and glimpsed him using a camera system, but said they had declined to do so again because it was too upsetting.

Karsiah Duncan was unable to visit Duncan at the hospital Tuesday evening, Troh said, and so never saw his father again.

One last thing…
Watch TheBlaze live and on demand on any device, anywhere, anytime.
try premium
Exclusive video
All Videos
Watch BlazeTV on your favorite device, anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe Now
Recommended
Daily News Highlights

Get the news that matters most delivered directly to your inbox.