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Brooklyn Center Woman Loses 9 Family Members To Ebola

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Nigeria has one more confirmed Ebola case, and the outbreak shows no signs of letting up.

The latest victim in Nigeria is a nurse who was treating Patrick Sawyer, the first American victim of the outbreak.

Sawyer’s family lives in Coon Rapids, Minn. He was travelling from Liberia to Nigeria.

Health workers say this is the worst Ebola outbreak on record. It’s responsible for 1,000 deaths in three African countries.

There’s a large community of West African immigrants in the Twin Cities, and many are personally affected by this outbreak.

That includes a Brooklyn Center woman, who in the last two months has lost nine family members to the deadly disease.

Cynthia Sangbai-Kwennah and her husband moved here from Liberia three years ago, leaving most of their family behind.

She says her father was hospitalized back home in June. Days laterm he was diagnosed with Ebola and then died.

His death was then followed by other family members who had been taking care of him.

It is difficult to describe what it must be like to lose that many members of your family in such a short time.

Sangbai-Kwennah is clearly still processing it, and trying to figure out what she can do to help her surviving family members who are sick, possibly with Ebola as well.

On Monday afternoon, she shared a plea for help for Liberia’s people and Liberia’s hospitals.

“My mom, dad, sister, niece, nephew, in-laws, cousins. They were all caught up in it,” she said.

This summer, each phone call from Liberia has brought news of death.

“Every time you pick up the phone and receive a call, that this family is dead, this person is dead,” Sangbai-Kwennah said.

She showed us photos of her father and mother who died, followed by her younger sister who had just finished college a few months ago.

Ebola has also claimed the lives of teenagers in her family.

“We need people to help our hospitals,” she said. “We’ve got a very poor hospital system.”

Sangbai-Kwennah is hopeful the medical community in the U.S. will offer more assistance to stop the spread of Ebola, and that people here in Minnesota will join efforts to donate supplies.

“We need support for our country, we cannot fight it alone,” Cynthia said.

She is particularly concerned about her one surviving sister who still lives in Liberia, because of the fear and panic tied to Ebola, she’s been isolated.

“Your entire family die in a month and a half,” she said. “It’s just so scary, I’m confused, I don’t even know what to do.”

There is a group called the Minnesota African Task Force Against Ebola, here in the Twin Cities asking for donations to send to Liberia and other countries to help stop the spread of Ebola.

They held a supply drive on Sunday and collected things like disinfectant wipes, face masks, goggles, gloves, bleach, and shoe covers.

There is another supply drive taking place this Sunday at North Hennepin Community College in
Brooklyn Park.

How Is Ebola Spread?

It requires direct contact to be spread, so that means through body fluids like saliva, blood, urine and sweat. The most vulnerable people are hospital workers and family members who are caring for the sick.

That’s why that protective gear, like the stuff that’s being collected, is so important.

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