DALLAS — Karsiah Eric Duncan, tall and thin, hurried to get ready Wednesday morning. He had not seen his father since he was a child in Liberia. The hospital had promised to set up a special camera in the isolated room of his father, Thomas Eric Duncan, who lay in critical condition after having been diagnosed with Ebola.
The 19-year-old knew that his father would not be able to speak. He just wanted to see him.
A nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital had told Karsiah the day before that, before Duncan’s conditioned had worsened, he sometimes woke and talked about him. Hearing that, the son had started crying, family members said.
“I’m praying that my dad will be okay,” Karsiah said Tuesday night at his mother’s church in Dallas. “I hope that they will find a cure for this.”
He was about to leave for the hospital Wednesday morning when he received a phone call from his mother telling him his father had died. Family members began to wail, doubling over, sobbing.
“He died at 7:51 this morning,” said Sana Sayed, a spokeswoman for the city of Dallas. “The family is grappling with this, and we are sad to hear about it.”
For Duncan’s extended American family, his arrival from Liberia was expected to be a time of reunion and celebration. Instead, with his arrival came a virulent disease, isolation and concerns that he was not getting the same kind of treatment that other Ebola patients in the United States were receiving.
Karsiah’s mother, Louise Troh, Duncan’s fiancee, was in mandated isolation in an undisclosed location. She did not want Karsiah to come visit her. She did not want any questions to be raised about his health later. Yet she told him by phone that she was happy that he would finally see his father again.
Duncan landed in Dallas on Sept. 20. Five days later, he went to an emergency room complaining of abdominal pains. He had a fever of 101.1 degrees. The hospital sent him home. Three days later, Troh’s daughter called an ambulance. On Sept. 30, the diagnosis came back: Duncan had Ebola.
Neighbors in Liberia said that Duncan had helped carry a pregnant woman to a taxi, then rode with her to a hospital in Liberia. The pregnant woman later died of Ebola. Family members said Duncan did not know that he, too, had contracted Ebola before he boarded a flight. When he received the diagnosis, he told Troh, whom he called “the love of his life,” that he regretted bringing the virus to Dallas and possibly exposing her.
Friday was the last day Troh was able to speak to him by phone.
As his condition worsened and he became unresponsive, the family gathered. On Sunday, Duncan’s mother, sister and nephew piled in a car in North Carolina, heading for Dallas, hoping to make it in time.
They arrived Monday, and, almost directly, went to the hospital, where they gathered in a room a floor below the isolated ward.
Duncan’s mother, wearing a purple shirt, an African print skirt and scarf, looked through a monitor and saw her son. A laptop camera had been placed in Duncan’s room by a health-care worker. The family watched as Duncan lay in what appeared to be a deep sleep.
Duncan’s mother, who had not seen him in many years, began to wail.
Troh, although worried about her health and that of family members who had contact with Duncan before he was diagnosed, was clinging to hope for him. She was overjoyed with the news that finally he was receiving an experimental treatment.
“Before the drug treatment was started, she was very anxious because she felt like nothing positive was being done for him,” her pastor, the Rev. George Mason, said in an interview. “She just broke out in elation when they announced that he was being treated with the drug. . . . She began to praise God. She was very happy.”
On Tuesday, her son, a student at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Tex., surprised her by arriving in Dallas.
He had graduated from high school in June and wanted his father to attend his graduation, but Duncan was unable to make it. Instead, he flew from Liberia in September. Now they all looked back and wondered what might have happened if he had had the money for the plane ticket in June. They continued to pray.
Troh has refused to allow her son to visit her in isolation. “She has felt that it was best for him to have complete confidence that he was not exposed,” said Mason, who is senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.
Duncan’s mother, sister and nephew returned to the hospital with civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who met with doctors and prayed with the family. They had reached out to Jackson for help, asking him to call the hospital and demand that Duncan be given special treatment for Ebola.
“We were told they weren’t giving him anything,” said Jamie Foster Brown, a friend of the family and a board member for D.C. nonprofit group Women’s Wing, which raised money for family members to travel to Dallas, “that he was on saline drops and oxygen and they just changed his diaper. They couldn’t talk to the doctors.”
When the family returned with Karsiah to the hospital Tuesday, they were turned away, family members said. Tuesday night, Karsiah appeared at a news conference at his mother’s church. Dressed in a white long-sleeve shirt and black tie, he dug his hands in his pockets and thanked the church and the hospital. He asked for prayers for his father and his family. Then he and other family members filed out of the church with plans to see Duncan one last time Wednesday morning.
But at 8:30 a.m., Mason walked into Troh’s temporary home in isolation with a Bible in hand. He was accompanied by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who also carried a Bible.
Mason and Jenkins gathered everyone in the living room — including Troh, her 13-year-old son, Timothy Wayne, and two men in their 20s, Oliver Smallwood and Jeffrey Cole. They also held their own Bibles. They began to read and pray.
A few minutes later, Jenkins delivered the news.
“We are here to tell you the sad news that Eric Duncan passed this morning,” Jenkins told Troh.
She threw herself to the floor, writhing in grief, Mason said.
“As of yesterday, they felt that there was every reason to believe that perhaps he would be getting better now,” Mason said.
“They had started the new treatment, and he had been stable enough for them to do that. Their hopes had been raised yesterday.”
Mason listened as Troh expressed her grief, anger and frustration. She wondered whether he might be alive today if he had been admitted when he first sought care instead of being sent home. She vented her anger that Karsiah did not have a chance to see his father again.
Then it was time to call Karsiah. He wept on the phone.
Troh called her daughters, then Mason and Jenkins helped her craft a written statement to the world.
Later, she watched as it was read on television news broadcasts. She sat numb. Wednesday night, health officials would be calling to check her temperature.
Phillip reported from Washington.