By Bob Allen
The fiancée of the first man to die of Ebola in the United States says the tragic story of love, war and quarantine was too complicated for a newspaper story or TV news segment to fully tell, so she decided to write a book.
Louise Troh, author of My Spirit Took You In, shared part of the backstory of Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Oct. 8, 2014, just days after arriving in Dallas from Liberia, June 18 at the annual gathering of friends of Baptist News Global at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly at the Hyatt Regency Dallas.
“It was very important, because if I had told the story to TV or to these reporters, it was not going to get across the globe,” said of her decision to co-write a memoir with former Dallas Morning News religion writer Christine Wicker.
Troh recalled the hysteria that swept the city and country in the days before and after Duncan’s death. “There were so many rumors swirling around,” she said.
Before being diagnosed with Ebola at Texas Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 28, 2014, Duncan had already been sent home from the hospital once with antibiotics. Two nurses who treated him later contracted the disease, but both survived. Troh and her family endured a 21-day quarantine.
Some attributed Duncan’s misdiagnosis to his race, while others claimed he lied about having contact in Liberia with a woman who later died from Ebola. Authorities were saying if he survived he could face criminal charges.
Troh said nobody was talking about the whole story of what led Duncan to America in the first place — to marry the woman he met when both were refugees in Ivory Coast and had a child together before she got and took a chance to emigrate to the United States — or what did or did not happen in the days before he left Liberia.
“There wasn’t anyone who really wanted to tell this story, so I had to tell this story in a book that everyone would read — when my grandkids grew up, to have to read what happened to us and what happened in America — so I really had to write this story so it could be everlasting.”
Though they didn’t know it at the time, Troh and Wicker were both members of Wilshire Baptist Church, a CBF-affiliated church in Dallas.
During her quarantine, Wilshire Pastor George Mason visited Troh and her family daily. Members of her Sunday school class sent notes. On the first Sunday after Duncan’s death, 15 news cameras were rolling in the church sanctuary, along with droves of reporters.
Wicker said Mason called her several times to talk about dealing with the media, and in one conversation he mentioned that Troh really didn’t want to tell her story to reporters and would like to write a book.
After thinking about it, Wicker called Mason back to ask if possibly she could help. “I kind of hoped you would volunteer,” Mason said.
Wicker was already under contract for another book, and with a deadline pushing on that project she approached her publisher with some trepidation, but he responded it sounded like a good story and they should do it.
Asked in an interview format by Mark Wingfield, associate pastor at Wilshire and a member of BNG’s board of directors, when she realized it was a great story, Wicker said it began with an argument after editors repeatedly pushed her to ask questions about Liberia’s civil war.
“Louise didn’t want to talk about the war,” Wicker said. “People who have seen terrible things don’t always want to say those terrible things.”
“One of the moments for me that was really affecting was one day she and her friend … began to tell me about the war, and the stories that they told me were truly horrible,” Wicker recalled. “They talked and talked and at the end of the time, Louise looked at me and she said: ‘They wanted to know about the war? Well, that’s how it was.’”
Wingfield, who worked as a journalist before entering congregational ministry, said the book is a good example of the importance of understanding “the story behind the story.”
“One thing the book does very well is tell of those experiences, and how terribly difficult it is to come to America as an immigrant, and things that none of us as native born would ever stop to think about,” Wingfield said.
Wicker said it has changed the way she looks at immigration.
“Every time now I see immigrants I realize that we just don’t know their story at all,” Wicker said. “We knew just the surface of Louise’s life. There was so much depth there and so much humor and so much hard work.”