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The tragic love story of America's first Ebola patient

A lot of Ebola reporting, especially in the early days of the recent outbreak, focused on cold body-count calculations and faceless victims, as if the virus wasn't moving through individual people and their families. This couldn't be truer than for the panicked coverage of the first Ebola victim in the US, Thomas Eric Duncan. Last September, the Liberian national flew to Dallas and soon discovered he was sick with the hemorrhagic fever.

By September 30, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Duncan was the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the US — sparking an epidemic of fear.


The photo of Thomas Eric Duncan that was widely circulated during his illness. (Wilmot Chayee, AP)

Duncan died nine days later. At the time, what the public knew about him mostly focused on how he contracted the virus, whom he may have infected, whether his case would spark an outbreak (it didn't), and that he was America's first Ebola diagnosis and death.

What we didn't hear about, however, was the tragic love story behind his visit to America: Duncan was here to meet with Louise Troh, a Dallas nurse, his longtime love, and the mother of one of his children, a 13-year-old son named Karsiah. The couple had been planning for Duncan to come to the US since 2013, but it took months for them to secure a visa and raise enough funds for his first trip here.

In a new memoir, My Spirit Took You In, Troh writes a personal tale of immigrating from Liberia to the US, leaving Duncan behind in Liberia, how Ebola eventually tore them apart after their brief reunion, and the quarantines and media circus that ensued.

In a Vanity Fair excerpt, Troh recounts seeing Duncan in Texas for the first time last September:

He hugged me. When I sat down he sat next to me, put his arms around me, and pulled me close to him. It felt so strange to be with him at last. I knew him from so much talking on the phone, and the sharing of so many dreams. I hid Eric’s love at the center of my life for many years. For so many years, he was only a voice talking from so far away, many times talking about how fine our son was becoming ...

On his way to Dallas — and to me — Eric called from each airport where he landed on his journey. In Liberia as he was about to leave, he rang to say, "I am on my way at last, sweetheart."

You can read the rest of the excerpt here in Vanity Fair.

Read more: Living through Ebola — stories from the people who are witnessing the virus firsthand

13 things you need to know about Ebola

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