Ebola scares Kentuckians

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

LYNDON, Ky. (Christian Examiner) – Parents at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School near Louisville, Ky., expressed so many concerns about Susan Sherman returning to the classroom this month that administrators asked her to take a 21-day paid "precautionary leave" of absence from her class.

They also requested her to get a doctor's note stating she was in good health before returning to her teaching assignment.

She resigned instead.

Sherman, who also is a registered nurse, had been on a short-term medical mission trip to Migori, Kenya, in eastern Africa, with her husband Paul, a retired orthopedic surgeon.

Parents had expressed "strong concerns" about Ebola, administrators said.

Kenya Relief Ministries, where Steve and Sharon Sherman have gone four times on short-term mission trips, offers medical care to the community. Sharon Sherman resigned from her job at St. Mary Margaret Catholic School, where she worked since 1998, rather than take a requested quarantine of 21 days after serving in Kenya, some 3,000 miles from an Ebola infected country. | Kenyarelief.org

Kenya is more than 3,000 miles from Liberia and other West African nations where an Ebola epidemic rages. By comparison, the distance between Los Angeles and New York City is 2,800 miles.

The Shermans had ministered for the fourth year in Kenya at the Brase Clinic and Vision Center connected to the 320-student Kenya Relief Academy. It's a ministry started in 2002 by Steve and Greta James in honor of their daughter, Brittney, who had corresponded for three years with a Kenyan child she hoped to meet one day. She died before doing so.

After meeting Newton, the child their daughter had wanted to meet, the James couple started Kenya Relief as "a faith-based organization that partners with others to make a difference in the world by sharing the love of Jesus Christ through physical, mental and emotional aid," according to their website: KenyaRelief.org.

"Last week, Paul Sherman sent a letter to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, complaining that 'unfounded fears' of some parents and parish staff 'are triumphing over truth and reason,'" according to an article in the local newspaper, the Courier-Journal.

"He said he and his wife offered to give an educational meeting about Ebola and about their medical mission trip, but they 'were put off until our quarantine is over.'"

Sherman said all the other members of the team that went to serve through Kenya Relief had returned to their jobs with no problem.

Steve James of Kenya Relief said he's only had one other mission trip participant experience a negative reaction upon returning home, the article continued.

"We don't have Ebola in Kenya," James said, adding that he thought it was unfortunate when people making decisions "haven't paid attention to the facts."

The Shermans had gone for the fourth time on a short-term medical mission trip to work at Brase Clinic, which next year is to expand from its 6,000 square foot building to a modern, full-service hospital that "will provide a level of medical care that is rarely given in third-world countries," according to the website. "KRMC (Kenya Relief Medical Center) will be a beacon of hope in western Kenya."

Sherman, who started working as a teacher for the archdiocese in 1998, resigned rather than take the requested leave and was unavailable for comment.

St. Mary Margaret Catholic School referred questions to the archdiocese. Cecelia Price, the archdiocese's chief communications officer, said the decision to request the "precautionary leave" came from the school.

Examples of heightened fears about Ebola have been noted elsewhere:

-- In Dallas, Texas, a certified nursing assistant claimed her employer sent her home after her daughter had visited her from Kenya.

-- In Akron, Ohio, a bridal shop closed temporarily after the manager learned a nurse who later was diagnosed with Ebola had shopped there.

-- In Jefferson County, Kentucky – Greater Louisville – the Courier-Journal article reported that, "there have been anecdotes about nervous teachers making half-serious Ebola jokes when a student from Africa enrolls at the school."

- Ebola cases worldwide could exceed 20,000, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director general of the World Health Organization told reporters in a Geneva, Switzerland, press conference in late August.

At the current rate, about 52 percent of those infected would die.

"That's not saying we expect 20,000 cases," Aylward said, adding that it's crucial, however, to have a plan now to deal with an outbreak that big.

That being said, Nigeria and Senegal have been declared free of Ebola, and prevention education seems to be working in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and in Liberia, data indicates the disease is in a bit of a decline.

The outbreak cannot be considered eliminated, however, until it has been stopped in all three countries, the CDC's Frank Mahoney said.

Plans for the Kenya Relief Medical Center (KRMC), a full service hospital that will provide care now offered through the Brase Clinic and Vision Centers in Kenya through Kenya Relief. For more information go to Kenyarelief.org