DALLAS (AP) — The dark days of quarantine are over, yet Louise Troh remains captive to the disease that killed the man she loved.
“War took the life I made in Liberia. Disease took the life I made in America,” she writes in a memoir being released next week.
The fiancee of the first Ebola victim in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, hopes “My Spirit Took You In” provides some resolution to a story that spanned two decades, from a border town in Ivory Coast to a Dallas hospital. The book, written with former journalist Christine Wicker, traces Troh’s life as a refugee from Liberia’s civil war to an exile in America, through the lens of that love.
With Duncan gone, and the frenzy to contain the disease quieted, Troh finds some comfort in the idea that his illness raised awareness in the United States about Ebola, which was ravaging West Africa at the time and killed more than 10,000 people in the latest outbreak.
“Suppose Eric had not come here to become the face of Ebola, then the whole of Liberia would be in darkness,” she told The Associated Press in her first interview since his death.
Duncan came to visit Troh in Dallas last September and the two planned to marry, cementing the relationship that started nearly two decades earlier. They had a son, Karsiah, who’s now 19. But while Troh was able to emigrate to Boston in 1998, Duncan couldn’t get a visa.
After years of trying, he finally obtained one. Troh borrowed $2,500 from a Liberian acquaintance and bought his ticket.
But four days after arriving, Duncan was in the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas. Troh writes that she told two nurses that Duncan had come from Liberia, though the hospital says it did not learn then of Duncan’s origins. Troh wonders whether greater emphasis could have helped.
“I wish I said to everyone, the nurses, the doctor, ‘Liberia. Liberia. Liberia. He is only six days here from Liberia,'” she writes.
Duncan was diagnosed with a sinus infection and sent home with a prescription for antibiotics. As his condition deteriorated, Troh, a nurse’s aide, wrote that she suspected his diarrhea was caused by the antibiotics, and the fever by malaria or typhoid. She tells AP she never contemplated Ebola, since Duncan had been screened at the Liberian airport.
“If he was sick on the plane, don’t you think he would have been set aside? No, he became sick here. He did not mean to bring Ebola to the U.S.,” she said.
Then, while Troh was at work, her daughter, Youngor Jallah, found Duncan shivering and fully dressed in bed. Jallah, also a nurse’s aide, called an ambulance, warning the crew that Duncan had just come from a “viral country.” They returned wearing face masks and rubber gloves.
“I was never thinking that he had Ebola. When he got sick, I thought, let me call the ambulance and just for their protection, tell them that he was from a country with this disease. That’s all. I’m not a doctor,” Jallah says.
When Duncan tested positive for Ebola, Dallas County officials immediately confined Troh, her son, Duncan’s nephew and a family friend to the two-bedroom apartment where he had become sick. Without air conditioning and with curtains drawn, the apartment was hot and dark.
In the book, Troh recalls spraying bleach on surfaces and bagging used linens, shaken with fear that she would contract Ebola. Her dread grew when a crew in hazmat suits sealed off the apartment with plastic.
“It’s like I wasn’t on Earth any more. I was expecting death at any time,” she told AP.
Outside, officials scrambled to contain the disease and deal with public concern. After two of Duncan’s nurses contracted Ebola, the number of people in quarantine being monitored by Dallas County rose to 179. Some schools were closed. Sen. Ted Cruz pushed for a ban on flights from the hardest-hit countries in Africa.
Duncan’s family suspects he received inadequate care, while the hospital has repeatedly said any such allegations are untrue.
“I know Louise has questions, and really there’s not anything to be done at this point,” said her pastor, George Mason. “If she were to dwell on those matters, it would be more difficult I think for her to get on with her life.”
Duncan’s legal family — his mother, sister and nephew, who live in North Carolina — settled with the hospital for an undisclosed sum that was divided among his parents and his five children. Karsiah Duncan is using the money for tuition at Angelo State University. The settlement also went toward paying back the $2,500 Troh borrowed for Duncan’s ticket.
In the Dallas townhouse she purchased with an undisclosed advance for her memoir, Troh says she is counting on book sales to help achieve a dream: building a clinic, school and orphanage in Liberia. She has already bought two tracts of land.
“It has always been my plan to go back,” she told AP.