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Vigil held in Worcester for Ebola patients

September 19, 2014


The Rev. John Edgar Freeman of Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church, right, speaks about Liberia and the Ebola crisis, as the Rev. Louis G. Bond, left, of the United Methodist Church listens at a vigil Friday at the Family Health Center of Worcester. Support was offered for Ebola victims; and for the recovery of Dr. Rick Sacra. (T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA)

WORCESTER — The Rev. John Edgar Freeman spoke with warmth and a sense of humor about his native Liberia.

His historical perspective, delving into everything from the Liberian flag's similarity to early versions of the Texas flag to Liberians' affection for rice, belied the seriousness of the Ebola outbreak that still rages in Liberia and neighboring countries.

The reverend presided, along with the Rev. Louis G. Bond of Covenant St. Andrews United Methodist Church, over a vigil Friday night at Family Health Center on Queen Street for victims of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

Rev. Freeman, who said he still has four children in the capital city of Monrovia, said the outbreak hit Liberia at a time when the country is struggling economically. The economy has stalled, and people go hungry. Infrastructure has lagged behind other developed countries, and electricity service can be spotty, Rev. Freeman said.

"There were so many problems, and then came Ebola," he said.

Cultural differences have exacerbated the problem, Rev. Freeman said, referring to disputes over how dead Ebola victims are buried, and how herbal doctors in some areas are more trusted than medical professionals.

Communication, more aid workers and funding for the fight against Ebola, and more education about how the virus spreads and can be prevented will be key if the outbreak is to be contained, Rev. Freeman said.

Dr. Richard Sacra, a Holden doctor and Family Health Center physician, was serving as a medical missionary in Liberia when he contracted Ebola. He has since been flown back to the U.S. for treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center, and doctors said this week they are optimistic he will fully recover.

Frances Anthes, president and chief executive officer of Family Health Center, read during the vigil from a recent email Dr. Sacra sent to staff.

The doctor's appetite is good, and he ate a pizza for the first time in recent days. He wrote in the email that he hopes to soon be weaned off intravenous fluids.

But Ms. Anthes said the doctor's biggest concern is that facilities in Monrovia be reopened to provide medical services.

"Even if the Ebola care situation improves at present, there will continue to be a general healthcare and humanitarian crisis," Dr. Sacra wrote in the email.

Dr. Virginia Van Duyne grew up around the Sacra family; she said their families went to church together, and said she babysat Dr. Sacra's oldest son. She said the doctor was a mentor, and said she spent time in Liberia with him. She said she was impressed with the outpouring of support from the local Liberian community.

"Liberians here are tight-knit and clearly well-connected," Dr. Van Duyne said. "They're very much a part of Worcester."

Steven H. Foskett Jr. can be reached by email at steven.foskett@telegram.com. 

Steven H. Foskett, Jr.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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