Ebola crisis: My son's survival saved me

Alexander Kollie and his son James Kollie Image copyright Katy Athersuch/MSF
Image caption Alexander Kollie (l) and his son James pictured after his recovery

A Liberian worker for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) tells how he lost most of his family to Ebola.

Already separated from his family because of his work, the news was almost too much to bear.

But he was saved from mental collapse by the survival of his 18-year-old son, who became the 1,000th person treated by the medical charity to survive infection by the virus.

Alexander Kollie's story:

Saturday 21 September is a day I will never forget: I was out working with MSF as a health promotion officer, visiting villages and telling people about Ebola.

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Media captionAlexander Kollie describes how he lost most of his family to Ebola

Then I got a call from my wife's number. I answered the phone but nobody spoke.

She was staying in the capital, Monrovia, with three of our children while I was working in Foya, in the north of Liberia.

At that time, Ebola had come to Liberia so I tried to talk to my family about the virus and to educate them, but my wife did not believe in it.

I [had] called my wife begging her to leave Monrovia and bring the children north; she did not listen; she denied Ebola.

Image copyright Katy Athersuch/MSF
Image caption Alexander Kollie phoned the Ebola hotline when his son, who is known as Kollie, seemed lethargic

Later that night, my brother called me: "Your wife has died."

I said: "What?" He said: "Bendu is dead."

I dropped the phone; I threw it away and it broke apart.

We were together for 23 years. She was the only one who understood me well.

I felt like I'd lost my whole memory. My eyes were open, but I didn't know what I was looking at; I had no vision.

Later that same week, I received another call from Monrovia.

My brother, who was working as a nurse, had been taking care of my wife.

But he became infected, and died, too.

Then my two youngest children were taken to the medical centre in Monrovia, but my girls were very sick and they died.

I felt even more helpless; I was breaking in my mind; I couldn't make sense of anything.


My eldest son, James Kollie - also known as Kollie - was still in Monrovia in the house where our family had been sick, though he was showing no signs of illness.

He called me and said: "Everyone got sick, I don't know what to do."

I told him to come here to Foya to be with me.

When my son arrived, people in the village would not accept us.

They told us that our family had all died and to take Kollie away.

I was angered by their reaction. I knew he wasn't showing any symptoms and was not a threat to them but because of the stigma, they wouldn't let us stay. We had to move on.

The next morning, though I noticed my son looking more tired than usual; I was worried about him.

Image copyright Katy Athersuch/MSF
Image caption Alexander Kollie was able to visit his son at the Ebola treatment centre

He didn't have any symptoms like vomiting or diarrhoea, but he just looked tired.

I called the Ebola hotline and MSF brought him to their Ebola care centre here in Foya to be tested.

When the test came back positive, it was a night of agony for me. I spent the whole night just crying and thinking about what would happen now to my son.

The next day the psychosocial counsellors at MSF calmed me down. They told me to wait. To hold my peace. I sat with them, and we talked and talked.

I was able to see my son in the care centre from across the fence, so I called out to him: "Son, you're the only hope I got. You have to take courage. Any medicine they give to you, you have to take it."

He told me: "Papa, I understand. I will do it. Stop crying Papa… My sisters are gone, but I am going to survive and I will make you proud."

Every day, the counsellors made sure they saw me, and they sat with me so I could talk.

After some time, my son started doing much better. He was moving around… but I was worried that his eyes were still red.

Then something amazing happened, something I could not actually believe until I saw it.

I've seen people with Ebola start to look strong and then the next day, they're just gone.

So I was also thinking, maybe my son will be one of those who will be gone the next day.

'Smiling face'

When finally I saw him come out, I felt so very, very happy. I looked at him and he said to me: "Pa, I am well."

I hugged him. Lots of people came to see him when he came outside. Everybody was so happy to see him outside.

Then MSF told me, that he is the charity's 1,000th survivor of Ebola.

This is a great thing, but I was wondering, how many more people have we lost?

Of course I am so happy to have Kollie still, but it's hard not to think of all those who are no longer with us.

Image copyright Katy Athersuch/MSF
Image caption James Kollie, 18, wants to study biology and become a doctor

When I took him home with me, he actually had a smiling face. And me too, I had a big smile on my face.

I decided to have a little party for him.

Since then, we do everything together. We sleep together, we eat together and we have been conversing a lot.

I asked him: "What's your ambition after you graduate from high school?"

He's a 10th grade student. He told me that he wants to study biology and become a medical doctor.

So now I'm going to try every way I can to meet his needs and succeed in life, so that he should not feel so bad about the pain he has suffered losing his mother.

I told him: "Now I am your mother and your father. I am serving as both for you now."

He is 18 now, so I will make him my friend… because he's the only one I have to talk to.

I cannot replace my wife, but I can make a new life with our son.

How not to catch Ebola:

Image copyright AP
  • Avoid direct contact with sick patients as the virus is spread through contaminated body fluids
  • Wear protective cover for eyes
  • Clothing and clinical waste should be incinerated and any medical equipment that needs to be kept should be decontaminated
  • People who recover from Ebola should abstain from sex or use condoms for three months

Ebola basics

How Ebola attacks

What virus has hit - in maps

Uncertainty over figures

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