Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, July 31, 2014

Widow Of American Ebola Victim Speaks Out

Decontee Sawyer, wife of Liberian government official Patrick Sawyer, a U.S. citizen who died from Ebola after traveling from Liberia to Nigeria, cradles her 1-year-old daughter Bella at her home in Coon Rapids, Minn., Tuesday, July 29 (Craig Lassig/AP).

Decontee Sawyer, wife of Liberian government official Patrick Sawyer, a U.S. citizen who died from Ebola after traveling from Liberia to Nigeria, cradles her 1-year-old daughter Bella at her home in Coon Rapids, Minn., Tuesday, July 29 (Craig Lassig/AP).

The Ebola outbreak that’s killed more than 670 people in West Africa has hit too close to home for some Americans.

Decontee Sawyer lives in Minnesota, which is home to Liberia’s largest diaspora community. Her husband, a Liberian government official, recently contracted the virus in Liberia and became the first American to die from Ebola in this outbreak.

“It’s a big blow — everyone knew Patrick, here in Minnesota in the Liberian community, so everyone feels like they’ve lost their best friend, their brother. Everyone’s crying, everyone’s shocked,” she told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

But if he had not died, Patrick Sawyer could have brought Ebola home with him, as he was planning to come to Minnesota for his daughters’ birthday party on August 16.

Sawyer said she thinks that airlines and border control should keep screening potentially exposed travelers for symptoms, but should also continue to allow travel between West Africa and the United States. Otherwise, she’s worried that more Americans will contract the disease abroad.

“I already have Ebola affecting one country of mine,” she said. “I don’t need it affecting another country of mine.”

Interview Highlights: Decontee Sawyer

On why her husband was in Liberia

“Patrick was in Liberia because he felt like Liberia needed him. He was into social justice — Patrick was a community servant. We both lived here in Minnesota and he served the Liberian community here in Minnesota on a volunteer basis — that’s how we met, in fact, volunteering for a cause in our community. And he wanted to go back to Liberia, by all means, to help Liberia to have a better democracy because he had experienced it in the U.S. He wanted that for Liberia, he wanted social justice. He was into mental health. He felt very passionately about those things and he wanted to be in Liberia to make a difference.”

On her husband’s planned return to Minnesota

“Because of Patrick’s passion and everything for Liberia, I was left here with three little girls to raise by myself. I wanted Patrick back home — I told him, I didn’t sign up to be a single mom. You need to come back and fight the good fight back home. That put a strain on our marriage, but we deeply loved each other and loved our children. I scheduled the girls’ birthday for August 16th and told him the date. He was coming, he was coming, by all means — nothing could have stopped Patrick from coming, except Ebola.”

On whether the U.S. should allow entry from affected regions

“I’m so confused — because there are people who went there, who have families here, who went there just to visit. They’re dying to come back home to their babies. We don’t want them to bring Ebola back, I don’t want that. But at the same time, if they’re not displaying symptoms and they’re being screened, I think they should be allowed to come back. We keep them there, their risks are higher of getting Ebola.”

Poem: ‘Don’t Stand Back’

Decontee Sawyer shared this poem on the air, saying that she’d written it “a long time ago,” but that “everything about it applies to right now.”

Be my brother in my struggle
Don’t stand back and watch
While others lack the resources to resist the attack
Because what affects me, affects you

Together we are bonded by this earth
So be my sister in my struggle
Because what affects me does affect you
Directly or indirectly

Don’t stand back
Let’s help


  • Decontee Sawyer, Liberian-American activist and widow of the first American to die in this Ebola outbreak. She is founder of Today’s Women Alliance.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

Peter O’Dowd follows the route of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train 150 years ago, to look at modern-day race relations and Lincoln's legacy.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 21 6 Comments

YouTube Sensation Publishes Her First Cookbook

Maangchi's career was born when her son suggested she start making videos of herself cooking Korean dishes.

May 21 17 Comments

UC’s Napolitano Speaks Out On High Cost Of Public Ed, Anti-Semitism On Campus

Janet Napolitano talks about a plan to freeze in-state tuition, and campus protests against Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

May 20 Comment

‘Finding The Good’ Through Obituary Writing

Journalist Heather Lende has been writing obituaries in the small town of Haines, Alaska, for 20 years.

May 20 3 Comments

Pandas’ Bamboo Diet May Endanger Them

New research examining the genetics of panda waste shows they would be better suited to eat meat than plants.