MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Department of Health is working with leaders in the local Liberian community to address concerns about an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
This comes after a former Coon Rapids man collapsed from the virus in an airport in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. His following death marked the first recorded case in Nigeria, the continent's most populated country.
Patrick Sawyer, 40, was a top government official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance, and moved to Liberia to serve the country he loved, according to his wife Decontee Sawyer, who still lives in Coon Rapids with the couple's three young daughters, ages 5,4, and 1.
"Everyone knows Patrick, it's hit everyone's front door and they feel like they have lost a best friend and a brother and they are awake now," said Decontee Sawyer.
The outbreak is the largest and deadliest on record, with more than 670 deaths and more than 1,200 infections in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fatality rates for Ebola have been as high as 90 percent in past outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization.
Liberian officials closed the country's borders, and in Minnesota, health officials are meeting with members of the West African community Monday. Health experts at the CDC have been working with African nations since the Ebola outbreak began in March. Officials are on extra alert after Sawyer's case, realizing he was able to board a plane with the virus.
"Now that is happened to someone who is well known, highly educated and a very influential top government official," said Decontee Sawyer. "Patrick was so involved with everyone in the Liberian community."
Sawyer said she believes her husband contracted the virus from his sister. She said she is starting a Minnesota organization called Concerned Liberians Against Ebola which will benefit the Global Health Ministries and Samaritan Purse organizations.
The Minnesota Department of Health said Ebola can be just a plane ride away and is aware of the potential for Minnesotans to travel to and from West Africa. Since the outbreak began, officials have alerted Minnesota health care providers to be on the lookout for anyone with symptoms of the virus. The health department says it's providing resources and information to community members and is working on creating materials for local West African media about Ebola and travel precautions.
Travelers are considered to be at a low risk, but must practice careful hygiene and avoid contact with bodily fluids of sick people. The virus starts off with flu-like symptoms and often ends with horrific hemorrhaging. There is no treatment or vaccine.
Decontee Sawyer said her husband was scheduled to come back to Minnesota in mid-August for his daughters' birthday party.
"He was larger than life," she recalled, realizing even someone who seemed invincible could succumb to the virus.
Now, a memorial service will be planned for Sawyer on Sept. 14 at Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park at 1:30 p.m. with a reception to follow at Coon Rapids Community Center at 3 p.m.