Before Ebola hit Liberia in March 2014, 40-year-old William Poopei of Paynesville, Liberia, had a devoted wife, four healthy sons, and a steady job at a local lumberyard. He spent his days working to support his household; his nights playing with his children; and his weekends attending Sunday service at his local church. Life was “nah easy-o”, as Liberians say; but William had the three things he most needed: a regular paycheck, a roof over his head, and a loving family.
In July 2014, William’s world began to break apart. It started with his uncle, Jim, who came down with a high fever that would not break. William asked his wife, Mamie, to go check on his uncle, and from then on, the couple took turns assisting the family in caring for Jim. What they did not know was that Ebola had arrived at their doorstep, and that by trying to help, all of them were at risk.
Despite the family’s best efforts, Jim passed away. Days later, Mamie began feeling sick. Still not suspecting that it could be Ebola, she went to a local clinic, where she was misdiagnosed with malaria and treated accordingly. Then the clinic closed, and William brought his wife home. “She was here with me now, crying because her head was hurting,” he recalls. “There was no place to take her. She died in my arms.”
William had little time to grieve for Mamie before he too became sick. At his nephew’s suggestion, he sought treatment at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, where he tested positive for Ebola and was admitted into the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-managed Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU). Shortly after he was admitted, William learned that his six-year-old son, Patrick, had come down with a bad case of diarrhea and vomiting. So William told the relative taking care of Patrick to bring the boy to the ETU, where Patrick also tested positive for Ebola.
On August 31, 2014, William and Patrick were released from the ETU as Ebola survivors. While his church community welcomed William and his youngest sons – Patrick and eight-year-old Jeremiah – with open arms, his job refused to accept him. William eventually found work at a Ministry of Health-run, UNICEF-supported interim care center for children who are contacts of Ebola patients and are under 21 days of observation, but his initial contract expired in February 2015. Despite the pain, loss, and economic hardship he has experienced, William remains committed to helping others by sharing his story.
Music: Yusuke Tsutsumi, 2001, license held by Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 3.0 Unported, freemusicarchive.org/music/Yusuke_Tsutsumi/