Widow of Ebola victim wants ashes returned to US

Published 2:23 pm Saturday, August 9, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota woman who lost her husband to Ebola is working on bringing his ashes back to the U.S.

Decontee Sawyer said Friday that she wants her husband’s remains for her three daughters, so they can have a way to keep their dad near them.

“His work … his passion for a better Liberia, kept him away from them. So this is kind of like my last gift to him in his honor, so they can at least have that,” she said. “Liberia had him in life; let them at least have him in death.”

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Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian government official, died of Ebola on July 25 in Nigeria, days after he traveled from Liberia.

Decontee Sawyer said she has been working with U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s office and staff at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to make the transfer possible. She hopes Patrick Sawyer’s ashes are here before a Sept. 27 memorial service, in which she said she plans to remember all victims of Ebola.

News that Sawyer was working on bringing her late husband’s ashes to the U.S. stirred up some concern on Facebook at first, which prompted Sawyer to try to step up her efforts to educate the public.

“I’m sure there is still some fear, and I get it,” she said. “Let’s educate ourselves a bit more.”

According to information on the website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the remains of a person who dies of a quarantinable communicable disease may be authorized for entry into the U.S. if they are cremated or properly embalmed and placed in a hermetically sealed casket.

Franken released a statement saying: “This is a tragic loss not just for the Sawyer family, but for Minnesota’s Liberian community. We need to get Patrick’s remains home to his family, and I’ve directed my staff to work with Mrs. Sawyer to get this resolved as quickly as possible.”

The disease is transmitted only through contact with bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, vomit, sweat or feces.