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A Scholarship Fund Is Established To Remember Thomas Eric Duncan

Lauren Silverman
Members of Thomas Eric Duncan's family pray at Texas Health Resources in Dallas before an announcement about a scholarship to honor Duncan.

Seven months after Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S. last year, the hospital where he was treated reached a settlement with his family. Texas Health Resources agreed to create the Thomas Eric Duncan Memorial Fund in his honor. The $125,000 in seed money will go towards training nurses and doctors in Liberia. 

Josephus Weeks remembers playing soccer on a dirt field with Thomas Eric Duncan outside of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

“We were teenagers, like 13 to 17 years old,” Weeks says. 

Duncan played forward, while Weeks focused on defense. 

Credit Doualy Xaykaothao / KERA News
Josephus Weeks says Texas Health Resources accepted they made mistakes while caring for his uncle, Thomas Eric Duncan.

“Don’t come across me on a soccer field; I’m very vicious," he jokes. "Don’t let the smile fool you."

Weeks, dressed in an electric blue African top, smiles across the table at the very people who now manage a reincarnation of that soccer field – members of the Christian aid group SIM.

He’s working with the organization, decades after he left Liberia, to manage the Thomas Eric Duncan endowed scholarship.

“This is a divine intervention," Weeks says, calling SIM his family. "We’re going to work together and make sure we succeed. Failure is not an option.”

The SIM team that will manage the $125,000 donation includes Ebola survivor Nancy Writebol and her husband, David. Both are missionaries. 

“Ebola is finishing, but that doesn’t mean the effects of Ebola have stopped,” David Writebol says.

This month, it’s possible Liberia will be declared Ebola-free – marking 42 days of no new cases of the Ebola virus.

“The next challenge is to improve the situation there by training doctors and nurses and bringing ex-patriot doctors and nurses while the Liberian nurses are being trained,” Writebol says.

The Writebols will return to Liberia with SIM in June. Nancy says one of the biggest challenges there is medical education.

“There are so few doctors that are graduating from medical school in Liberia at this time," she says. "I believe last year it might have been five doctors that graduated in Liberia.”

Weeks says the best possible thing to do with the money from Texas Health Resources is to train doctors and nurses. 

“Because you can build a hospital," he says. "But if you don’t have adequate people to staff it, it’s just going to be there looking pretty and eventually run down. So we decided to train people and have them carry on the legacy of Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan, to make sure he’s never be forgotten and what’s happened here at Texas Health Resources.”

Josephus Weeks and Thomas Eric Duncan’s sister, Tupee Garsinii, will help raise funds for the scholarship.

“We appreciate this," Garsinii says. "We are excited. This is the beginning but we want to say thank you.” 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.