Minnesotans offer helping hands, aid at epicenter of Ebola outbreak

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2014 - 8:50 AM

A Fridley nurse will travel to hard-hit Sierra Leone; others are sending much-needed supplies.

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At Children's Hospital in St. Paul on August 14, 2014, pediatric nurse Carrie Jo Cain will travel to Sierra Leone to train medical workers and bring medical supplies to one of the three countries at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. Cain grew up there as a missionary's daughter.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii,

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When Fridley registered nurse Carrie Jo Cain arrives at a rural hospital in Sierra Leone with much-needed protective gear and training to stop the spread of Ebola, she will double the number of RNs stationed there.

Yet the Kamakwie Wesleyan Hospital serves 600,000 people in the northern part of the country. It’s been without a doctor for two years.

The lack of professional medical staff is just one of the challenges Cain and two other Americans will face.

Cain, 48, who grew up in Sierra Leone as the daughter of missionaries, is undeterred. She is inspired by her Christian faith and love of the country she plans to move back to in January.

“We can work with this. It is not hopeless,” she said. “We can stop this with quarantine.”

As the deadly virus sweeps through western Africa, hers is one of the aid efforts coalescing in Minnesota. An estimated 30,000 people of Liberian descent live in the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs, the largest Liberian population outside of Africa. The medical adviser to the U.S. embassy in Liberia will give a firsthand account of the situation there at a Brooklyn Park community meeting Wednesday.

In another anti-Ebola effort, Fridley-based Lutheran charity Global Health Ministries has airlifted protective medical gear to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, where they are already in use in hospitals and clinics. The five pallets sent held more than 40,000 gloves, 20,000 facemasks, 900 surgical splash shields, 500 surgical gowns, 240 bottles of disinfectant, 200 protective aprons and 48 hazmat suits and boots.

On Saturday, an even larger shipment of supplies was packed by Minnesota volunteers, including West African immigrants, for ocean transport. It will arrive in September.

“We are fortunate to have trusted people there to clear customs and distribute it,” said the Rev. Timon Iverson, executive director of Global Health Ministries, who visited Monrovia last spring.

“It’s quite a miracle,” Iverson said of the quick receipt and distribution of his group’s first shipment. “You try to get a can of pop through customs, it will take a week.”

Most of the supplies and money involved in that effort were donated by local health and community groups, including Fairview Health System, HealthEast and the Minnesota Liberian Community, Iverson said.

‘Everything was chaotic’

The outbreak is out of control in West Africa, leaving many in Minnesota anxious about relatives, friends and strangers in a country they love.

“When I left, everything was chaotic,” said Dr. Alfredmy Chessor, medical adviser to the U.S. embassy in Liberia, who is visiting the Twin Cities to collect medical equipment and supplies. “Things are still in disarray as far as … working together to get things done.”

The Liberian police and military forces were quarantining infected neighborhoods and a state of emergency had been declared, she said.

“There is an armed military presence out in the street,” Chessor said. “That is something we are not accustomed to. It brings fear and memories of the war.”

On the positive side, she said she has seen great strides is public education about how Ebola is spread. “People are now understanding the magnitude of the problem,” she said.

A fount of hope

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  • Carrie Jo Cain, a nurse at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, will travel to Sierra Leone to train medical workers and bring medical supplies to a country at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.

  • If you go

    Dr. Alfredmy Chessor, medical adviser for the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, who returned from Liberia a week ago, will provide firsthand information about the Ebola outbreak during a community dialogue from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Brooklyn Park City Hall, 5200 85th Av. N.

    The Brooklyn Park-based nonprofit African Career, Resource and Education Inc. is the sponsor.

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