Who Decides Who Lives and Who Dies When an Ebola Outbreak Creates Hysteria?

A Maryland man dies days before flights are chartered to pick up two Ebola victims, and his family wants answers. 

Nathaniel Dennis in Liberia in 2012
Nathaniel Dennis in Liberia in 2012 Courtesy of Natasha Dennis

After all, Nathaniel Dennis was an American, too, a Maryland native like his siblings.

“Everyone knew he was an American citizen, he obviously needed help … he was in a coma, he obviously needed to see a doctor immediately, and for that to not have happened, or someone to help make that happen, is ridiculous, and then they send for two American citizens that do have Ebola. It doesn’t make any sense,” Natasha Dennis says.

However, she isn’t resentful of the treatment that the two Americans with Ebola were afforded.  

“I’m so happy that they were able to come here and get that health care. We’re absolutely praying for their families, hoping for recovery, hoping for a serum that works,” she says. “So we’re hoping and praying something comes from this. That it wasn’t in vain that they were brought to the States … and we can help Liberia and we can help everyone from this disease.”                                      

But still, there are questions that she needs answered.

“I can understand Ghana closing their borders, as difficult, as hard as it was to accept. But why couldn’t we send him materials? Why couldn’t we send equipment? I don’t understand why nothing was able to get done. After we are able to give him a proper burial, [we will work on] changing policies both with the State Department and embassy. You shouldn’t tell American citizens there’s nothing you can do. That is absolutely your job to help us and do something,” she says.

In an email, State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala told The Root, “We express our deepest condolences to Nathaniel Dennis’ family and friends after his recent death in Liberia,” adding that “the U.S. Embassy in Liberia provided all appropriate consular assistance.” However, she refrained from giving more details about the case, citing respect for the Dennis family.

The family plans to start a foundation in Nathaniel Dennis’ name, in the hope that this never happens again, and is focused on bringing his body home. It has started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost. Then, hopefully, an autopsy will be done to find out exactly what went wrong.

“We still don’t know what happened to him, why he was in that state. He definitely needed to see a neurologist, [but] time wasn’t on our side, the timing of the Ebola hysteria, all these things,” Natasha Dennis adds, explaining that her brother, who had a shunt in his brain, had been born premature and had been a patient of the neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.

“I feel really strongly that, again, this could have been prevented, and I think wherever the ball fell short, we need to change policies and how things are done and how fast people get back in touch with one another. He did fight for a week, and in that week we could’ve done so much more than what was done,” Natasha Dennis says. 

Still, even in the face of tragedy, she finds hope in her brother’s faith.

“I think what makes me the happiest, in my family, he has probably, next to my mother, the closest relationship to God, and that kind of gives me comfort. He was the type of person to wake up and walk to church by himself, and you don’t see that in a lot of young 20-year-olds,” she says, laughing as she describes her brother, whom she called the “No. 1 [Baltimore] Ravens fan.” “He was just such a positive person, and I hope some of that rubs off on me, because I don’t know where he got this kind of strength to be such a loving person, but he was.”

Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.