Joseph Weeks says he was deeply disturbed when he learned last week that his uncle, Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, had been sent home from an emergency room at a Dallas hospital last Friday.
"I was terrified. Worried. Scared. All of the above," Weeks, 43, said Thursday outside his tan frame home in this former textile town in North Carolina’s rolling Piedmont.
Weeks said he suspected his uncle had contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia before flying to Dallas last month, his first trip to the United States, to attend his son’s school graduation. Duncan began to feel ill and visited the emergency room Sept. 25.
"They sent him home with those signs and symptoms," Weeks said. "And I was afraid he might not survive. So I called the CDC.
"I didn’t believe that they were moving fast enough at that time,’’ he said.
After he contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Weeks said, Duncan was admitted Sunday to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where he was tested and treated for Ebola.
He believes his uncle is now receiving the most effective treatment possible, he said.
"He’s getting the best care now and I really appreciate all the efforts the guys are putting in out there at Presbyterian. I just want to thank them for all the hard work."
Weeks said he speaks with his uncle by phone twice a day.
"He’s still fighting," he said. "He’s still suffering. He is still in pain and he’s still hurting.
"When I first talk to him, his spirits are down," Weeks said. "But then after our conversation progresses it goes up because I’m his strength."
Weeks said he and Duncan were raised in Liberia by Weeks' grandmother before Weeks left to live in the U.S. 20 years ago. Calling Duncan "my brother, really," he said he hadn’t seen him in 20 years.
Duncan’s mother and his sister, Mai Wureh, live with Weeks in Kannapolis, said Weeks, who has lived there 10 years. The town is best known as the hometown of the Earnhardt NASCAR racing family.
The intense media interest has been stressful for Duncan’s family members in Kannapolis and Dallas, Weeks said. He said Duncan did not get to see his son before he was hospitalized Sunday.
"These people are innocent people," Weeks said. "They didn’t ask for this. He didn’t ask for this.
"Unfortunately, it happened to him," he said. "He’s a member of my family so I have to do everything I can to make sure this man survives."
If Duncan had not been diagnosed and treated in the U.S., Weeks said, Americans probably wouldn’t be overly concerned about Ebola.
"If it wasn’t here, I don’t know what the reactions would have been. I don’t know that you all would’ve been here on my doorstep," he told reporters gathered around him.
Because of some Americans’ misguided reactions to media coverage, Weeks said, "the misunderstanding is that people think Ebola is around Kannapolis. And now they’re looking at my house and thinking, oh, Ebola might be in that house.’’
"Ebola is not here,’’ he said. "Ebola is in Texas and it is being contained. They are doing an outstanding job."
Assuming his uncle is treated and recovers, Weeks said, "I’ll be there to shake his hand and give him a hug."
Weeks said he planned to fly to Dallas as soon as possible to be with other family members.