Man with Minnesota ties dies from Ebola in Nigeria

Patrick and Decontee Sawyer
Patrick and Decontee Sawyer in 2008.
Courtesy of Decontee Sawyer

A Coon Rapids woman is setting up an organization to help victims of the Ebola virus in Liberia after learning that her spouse died of the deadly virus while on a work trip to Nigeria last week.

Decontee Sawyer said her husband Patrick led economic development work in West Africa on behalf of the Liberian government. He had been living in Liberia for several years, but was scheduled to visit Minnesota next month to help celebrate birthdays for two of his three young daughters.

Sawyer said she can't help but think of how close she and her children came to potentially being exposed to the Ebola virus.

"It could have gotten my girls and me and whoever else we get in contact with," she said. "It's a deadly, merciless killer and it needs to stop."

Sawyer formed the group Concerned Liberians Against Ebola to help those stricken with the disease. She said the group will funnel the donations and supplies it receives to two organizations that are already on the ground in Liberia — Fridley-based Global Health Ministries and the group Samaritan's Purse.

Ebola causes a high fever, diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding. It kills an estimated 90 percent of people who contract the virus.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Health is working with leaders in the local Liberian community to address concerns about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

State health officials met Monday with members of the West African community and are providing resources and information. The health department also is working on creating materials for local West African media about Ebola and travel precautions.

Department officials say they are aware of the potential for Minnesotans to travel to and from West Africa. Since the outbreak began, they have alerted Minnesota health care providers to be on the lookout for anyone with symptoms of the virus.

"From a public health standpoint we're very aware that our global community has gotten much smaller," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's infectious disease division. "So these diseases, global diseases, really are just a plane ride away."

Travelers are considered to be at a low risk, but must practice careful hygiene and avoid contact with bodily fluids of sick people.

Meanwhile, Sawyer also is urging members of Minnesota's Liberian community to postpone travel to the West African nation to avoid contracting or spreading Ebola.

She hopes some good can come from her family's loss.

"Patrick's gone. My three daughters will never get to know their father, and I don't want any other families to have to experience this," Sawyer said. "Anything I can do on my part from stopping this from happening I want to do."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.