DALLAS — Love, not Ebola, drove Thomas Eric Duncan from his native Liberia.
Duncan — whose diagnosis and death has unleashed alarm about Ebola in the U.S. — was accused of lying on his travel forms to flee his diseased-ravaged country. Some faulted him for flying to Texas just days after assisting an ill neighbor in Monrovia, Liberia.
The 42-year-old Duncan, who went by the name Eric, likely contracted the disease from the neighbor, but friends in Dallas say he didn’t know the pregnant woman had Ebola. He believed she had miscarried, and he was just trying to help her family get her to a hospital.
“The doctors took blood samples from her and told her she could go,” Saymendy Lloyd, a family friend, told the Dallas Morning News. “If he had known she had Ebola … he would not have put the love of his life in a situation like this.”
Duncan, travelling on a visa, made his first trip to the U.S. to reunite with his estranged son and the teen's mother, Louise Troh, who had been his girlfriend before she and the child fled war-torn Liberia for the United States 16 years ago.
George Mason, Troh’s pastor in Dallas, said the couple reconnected earlier this year and were hoping to start a new life together. Family members said that they were planning to marry and that Duncan would apply for permanent status in the United States.
“He came in hope,” Mason said during a Wednesday night prayer vigil and memorial service. “Eric and Louise built a castle of dreams in their hearts together that they never got to live in.”
Health officials said Duncan had no symptoms of Ebola when he made his journey from Africa, via Europe, arriving in Texas on Sept. 20.
In Dallas, Troh fixed home-cooked meals for Duncan and introduced him to friends and family members who dropped by her modest two-bedroom apartment. On one occasion, Troh babysat her grandchildren while her daughter, a nurse’s assistant, was at work, the New York Times reported.
“Oh, Grandma has a new boyfriend,” 6-year-old Rose exclaimed when her mother returned to pick her up.
On Sept. 25, Troh took Duncan to a Dallas emergency room, where he displayed some symptoms of Ebola but was sent home with an antibiotic. Three days later, Duncan was in isolation at the same hospital. He died on Wednesday, eight days after being confirmed as the first person to ever be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
Nearly 50 people who had direct or indirect contact with Duncan are now being monitored for Ebola. None have shown symptoms. Troh, who is considered at high risk, has been under strict quarantine for a week. She released a statement following Duncan’s death.
“This had dramatically changed our lives, and we will be grieving for a long time,” she said. “Eric was a wonderful man who showed compassion toward all.”
Troh, 54, and Duncan were able to speak by phone until Saturday, when his condition deteriorated.
“He was lonely,” Troh’s friend Lloyd told the Dallas Morning News. “He wanted family around him. He was surrounded by strangers.”
At the Wednesday church service, Wilshire Baptist Associate Pastor Mark Wingfield told the congregation that Duncan’s last words were spoken to a nurse, who asked him what he wanted.
“He wanted to see his son,” Wingfield said. “She asked him then where his son was. He said he was in college, where he should be. He was proud of his son.”
Karsiah Eric Duncan, a former standout athlete at his Dallas high school, is a freshman at Angelo State University in West Texas. He last saw his father when he was 3.
“I felt like God was calling me to come see my dad,” Karsiah told reporters on the eve of his father’s death. “I'm just praying my dad will make it out safely.”
Karsiah, 19, arrived at the Texas Health Presbyterian on Tuesday, but he declined the hospital’s offer to see his father via a video chat.
“He decided to wait until tomorrow,” the hospital said in a statement.
Tomorrow never came for the father and son.
“I am now dealing with the sorrow and anger that his son was not able to see him before he died,” Troh said in her statement. “This will take some time, but in the end, I believe in a merciful God.”