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Remembering Shacki: Liberia's Accidental Ebola Victim
Originally published on Mon September 8, 2014 10:01 am
Sixteen-year-old Shacki Kamara was an accidental victim of Ebola. He didn't die of the virus, but if the virus hadn't struck Liberia, he might still be alive.
Kamara lived in West Point, a shantytown on a peninsula jutting out from the capital city of Monrovia. An Ebola holding center there was attacked on Aug. 16 and patients fled; on Aug. 20, the government imposed a lockdown.
Residents protested the next day, and clashed with security forces. During the unrest, Kamara was shot — apparently a single bullet wounded both legs. He lay in the street bleeding for at least 20 minutes. He was taken to Monrovia's main medical teaching facility, JFK Hospital, but its emergency room had lost two doctors to Ebola and wasn't able to care for him. So he was shuttled to Redemption Hospital, where he died on Aug. 22 from loss of blood and body fluids.
Eva Nah raised Shacki from the age of 2. That's when he lost his mother (her sister) and father.
His aunt, who's 63, still asks: "Why?"
Nah had sent her nephew to buy tea for her breakfast on the morning of the protest. She says it was quiet when he went out on the errand. As she puts it, "He got caught up in the mix."
"They shoot him; [they] shoot him foot," she says. The soldier's bullet went through both legs and came out the front. "It bust the entire leg," Nah says.
Neighborhood children told her what had happened: "They shot Shacki. They shot Shacki." Her oldest son confirmed the news. He had tried to run up to Shacki, telling the soldiers, "It's my brother. I want to get my brother."
The soldiers, he said, told him they'd shoot him if he came any closer.
Nah, who also raised Shacki's older sister Fanta, 25, and 22-year-old brother Samuel, says the teenager helped her sell ice water to West Point residents. "He goes all over the community to fetch me the water that I will be able to sell. Now Shacki is dead."
Asked about the circumstances of his death, Dr. Bernice Dahn, deputy health minister and chief medical officer for Liberia, says the teenager arrived at Redemption Hospital "in extreme shock. They tried to revive the shock, but he did not recover."
"Surely, a 16-year-old boy shouldn't die of gunshot wounds to the foot," I said to Dr. Dahn.
Her response: "It is true that people are dying from treatable conditions."
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf went to West Point during the quarantine and personally apologized to Shacki's aunt. "She's the head, for every one of us," Nah says, "so if she comes to say sorry to me, I accept and I say, 'OK.' "
Nah says the president added that "she will get back to me." And has that happened? "I'm still waiting for her."
Asked to look back on the tragedy of last month, Nah dissolves into tears. "I feel bad. I say, I hurt. Every morning I can feel it in my body."
Her neighbors try to comfort her. They tell her she must move on with her life.
But Shacki meant everything to Eva Nah. And now he is gone.
"Only God can comfort me," she says. "Only God can take me through."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Nearly 2,000 people have died from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but 16-year-old Shacki Kamara was an accidental victim. He didn't die from the virus. He died from gunshot wounds suffered when Liberian security forces imposed a lockdown on a shantytown in the capital. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been speaking with his aunt, who's still asking why.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The day began peacefully, despite the West Point neighborhood being under Ebola quarantine. Eva Nah sent her nephew, Shacki, out to the local shop to buy her tea for breakfast. Next thing she knew, the 16-year-old had been shot.
EVA NAH: They shoot him. The soldier shot him. The bullet penetrated his leg and came through the front and bust the entire leg.
QUIST-ARCTON: Shacki was shot in West Point, the densely populated shantytown in Monrovia, where a quarantine was imposed last month. Angry residents opposed the transfer of suspected Ebola patients from other parts of the city to a holding facility in their community. They attacked and looted the health center. Shortly after, the slum area was sealed off by the security forces. Eva Nah says everything was quiet at first.
NAH: So I in the process of waiting for the person who makes the tea. That was when a riot came from inside West Point. And he got caught up in the mix.
QUIST-ARCTON: Shacki's 63-year-old aunt first heard the news of his shooting from neighborhood children and then from her oldest son.
NAH: Then my son came running there and he came to me and said, oh, Mom, I heard that they shot Shacki. And he ran there. And then the other man said, don't some any closer. If you come any closer, I will shoot you.
QUIST-ARCTON: Meanwhile, the teen was laying on the street bleeding. An ambulance eventually arrived and picked him up, says the aunt. She says she raised Shacki from the age of 2, after the death of her sister and brother-in-law. She says he helped her with her work, selling ice water to local residents in West Point.
NAH: I feel so bad. Shacki was everything to me. He was a great help to me. I normally sell cold water in the cooler. And every morning, Shacki will wake up, go and get my - get me the cold water to sell. Now Shacki is dead. I have no one to help me.
QUIST-ARCTON: She blames the army for Shacki's death. But his wounds were treatable, and his death highlights a serious problem here in Liberia. He sought medical treatment at two hospitals. The already fragile, postwar health system has been simply overwhelmed by Ebola. Liberia's chief medical officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn.
BERNICE DAHN: It is true that it is tough for us right now. It is true that people are dying from treatable conditions. Prior to the outbreak of Ebola, Liberia had made significant gains when it comes to routine health care services. But at the moment, it is difficult.
QUIST-ARCTON: His aunt maintains Shacki did not get the medical care he deserved.
NAH: No, no, no, no. He didn't get no treatment - no treatment they gave him.
QUIST-ARCTON: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf went to West Point during the quarantine and personally apologized to his aunt. Eva Nah says she's heard nothing from the army.
NAH: I feel so bad. I'm hurt. Every day, I wake up. I cry because I feel bad that Shacki has left me. My neighbors come to comfort me. Only God can take me through.
QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.