Coon Rapids family loses husband, father to Ebola virus

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2014 - 11:09 AM

Husband and father was due to return from Liberia in August.

Ebola, the deadly virus that has killed hundreds of people in Africa, has hit home in Minnesota, where the Liberian community and a mother of three little girls is mourning the death of one of their own.

Decontee Sawyer, 34, of Coon Rapids, learned Friday that her husband, Patrick Sawyer, 40, a Liberian government worker who travels between his Minnesota family and his West African job, died from the deadly disease. Her husband last visited Minnesota last summer and planned to return in August.

“Everyone here knows Patrick,” Decontee Sawyer said. “So everyone feels like they’ve lost their best friend. They’ve lost their brother. And everyone is angry. It’s hit home. Ebola has been in Liberia since February, and it took Patrick being knocked down by Ebola for folks here in the U.S. to wake up to how serious it is.”

“It’s not just about the poor people who didn’t know better,” she said. “People weren’t doing what they needed to do to protect themselves or to really help the people over there. But now with Patrick, everyone knows him to be an educated man and he’s a top government official. It can happen to anyone.”

Historically, Ebola virus disease in Africa has killed up to 90 percent of those infected. In this outbreak, the fatality rate is nearer 60 percent, said Stephen Monroe, deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

There’s no cure for the disease, but early treatment may lead to higher survival rates, the agency said.

Ebola is spread by direct contact with an infected person’s blood or other bodily secretions, including vomit, saliva or feces.

Decontee Sawyer said she and others have launched an effort — Concerned Liberians Against Ebola — to educate people and raise money and supplies for the Samaritan’s Purse and Global Health Ministries, two international groups that are at the forefront of the Ebola battle.

“People’s lives are at stake,” she said. “If we think it’s a problem overseas and it’s those people’s problem, we’re dead wrong. If we don’t help, it will be our problem. It is our problem.”

Decontee Sawyer said her husband had been caring for his sister who was ill, assuming it was malaria. After the sister died, authorities confirmed it was Ebola.

Her husband planned to visit his three young daughters in Minnesota soon, and Decontee Sawyer was concerned he could bring the virus with him. Days later, she learned that her husband had collapsed after arriving at a Nigerian airport and was quarantined with the virus. He died Friday.

Decontee Sawyer said she’s advising Liberians, who frequently travel to Africa, to stay in the U.S.

“This is no time to go back,” she said. “There’s a battle going on. Ebola has declared war and we have to fight back. If you’re not part of a medical team or a group of experts that’s going to help, then please get out of the way. Stay home.”

“We don’t need any more girls growing up without their father,” she said. “If I can prevent that from happening to one family, I will have done good.”

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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