Caring for, and becoming, Ebola victims


It’s called the vow of hospitality, a promise to serve the poor and sick and remain by their side even in the face of death.

The men who enter the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God make that promise, and have been making good on it as the Ebola virus ravages Africa.

A dozen workers — Hospitaller Brothers and co-workers — have died of Ebola so far at two Hospitaller hospitals that have been treating Ebola victims, St. Joseph in Monrovia, Liberia, and St. John of God in Lunsar, Sierra Leone.

“These are modern martyrs,” said Brother Thomas Osorio, superior of the St. John of God Monastery in Westville Grove, where four brothers live. “To see that commitment being lived out is humbling but also a stark reminder of our promise,” Brother Tom said.

The community founded St. John of God Community Services in Westville Grove, a nonprofit, non-sectarian agency providing educational, therapeutic and vocational programs for people with disabilities. The order works in 53 other counties, operating more than 250 specialized hospitals and centers.

Brother Tom studied in Rome with Brother Patrick Nshamdze, the hospital director at St. Joseph’s in Monrovia, who died Aug. 2 at the age of 52.

Born in Cameroon, he was a religious brother for 23 years. A worker of boundless energy, he tested negative for Ebola on July 18 but felt unwell, Brother Tom said. Two weeks later, on July 29, he was tested again. This time he tested positive. He died three days later.

The conflicting test results illustrate one of the reasons the disease has had such a devastating effect in Africa — and how people in South Jersey can help.

Ebola has a three-week dormancy period, when it is possible to get a false negative, as happened with Brother Patrick. But in Monrovia, rubber gloves and other resources are in such short supply that health care workers often save them for when they know they need them.

“They need all the support we can give them to complete the isolation area and to supply specific hospital materials — gloves, masks, goggles, etc — as well as disinfectants to control and treat the Ebola virus,” said Brother Tom.

“There is no vaccine and no specific effective treatment for this disease, and treatments can only deal with the symptoms, which makes it a matter of life and death to introduce preventive measures and prevent contagion spreading to family members and the health care personnel treating the sick,” he said.

To help, Bishop Dennis Sullivan has asked all 68 parishes in South Jersey to take on a special collection or arrange some other method of collecting donations for those affected by the Ebola virus in Liberia and Sierra Leone.