Morristown charity worker determined to return to Sierra Leone, despite Ebola fears

Photographer Sergio Burani, left, and Africa Surgery founder Tom Johnson at documentary premiere in Morristown. Photo by Scott Schlosser
Photographer Sergio Burani, left, and Africa Surgery founder Tom Johnson at documentary premiere in Morristown. Photo by Scott Schlosser

 By Marie Pfeifer

A Morristown charity worker says he is determined to return to Sierra Leone, despite the rising death toll in what is being called the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

“I still plan to go to Sierra Leone in October.  There are surgical patients who are under our care that still require our help,” said Tom Johnson of Africa Surgery Inc.

Some 1,600 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria are believed to have been infected with the deadly virus, which has killed 887 victims so far, according to reports.  There is no known cure for Ebola, a fever that can cause intense bleeding.

tommy johnson
Tom Johnson at Assumption Church in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma has declared a state of emergency that could last up to three months.  According to The Guardian, house-to-house searches will be conducted, and any sick people will be quarantined.

Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, who valiantly treated more than 100 patients, died last week after his own week-long battle with the virus.

“It’s a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers,” Chief Medical Officer Brima Kargbo told Reuters.


Two American aid workers, 33-year-old Dr. Kent Brantly, medical director for the aid group Samaritans Purse; and his colleague, Nancy Writebol, also are infected.

Brantly arrived at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta last weekend. Writebol is expected to be airlifted there soon.

Closer to home, CBS News reports that a man who visited West Africa last month is in isolation at New York’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center, undergoing tests for Ebola.  Hospital officials said they will know in a day or two if he is infected.

The World Health Organization stated that it’s battling two enemies: Ebola and fear, which has produced growing hostility toward outside help.”

Tom Johnson, founder of Morristown-based Africa Surgery, said the nonprofit’s plans to send 15 villagers to Ghana for surgery are “totally being disrupted by the travel ban imposed by the Government.” They must be quarantined for 21 days.

Africa Surgery provides funding for poor villagers to receive surgeries, especially spinal operations. Johnson said he is allowed to send 15 post-op patients to Ghana for follow-up care.

“I am tracking the news on the internet daily and I am in touch with my helpers in Sierra Leone hoping that no one comes down with the disease.  I still plan to fly to Sierra Leone in October if I can fly there directly from the States,” said Johnson, who works as a handyman at Assumption Church in Morristown.


Alan Chorun, a former pastoral associate at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, is a volunteer in southern Sierra Leone.

Ebola prevention efforts are  hindered by fear, ignorance and “the villagers’ ancient burial practice of washing and touching the bodies of the dead,” Chorun said via email.

“It is worse because villagers view it as a conspiracy of the government, because the warning originated from the same area that this information is coming from,” he said.

“Since not many return from treatment, they say that they are being injected and killed in the treatment centers after just having the flu or Malaria . . . it’s the perfect storm for them to have this conclusion because they are against the party in control right now.”

At least 10 people are reported to have died from the virus in Bo, the area where he volunteers.

Chorun works with Young Vision Africa, a nonprofit that raises funds to build houses and jump-start sustainable farming projects.





Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2014