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She returned to a hero’s welcome. Katie Meyler, named along with other health workers by Time Magazine as one of its persons of the year, is back home in Bernardsville, New Jersey, after five months fighting Ebola in Liberia and three weeks recuperating in South America.
At Gladstone's Tavern in Gladstone, N.J., Thursday night, Meyler’s support team opened their arms, embracing her with hugs, kisses and "thank yous" for her efforts on behalf of Liberia’s poor.
When the Ebola epidemic struck Western Africa, instead of staying away from the country she knew well, Meyler went back. She turned the girls’ school she founded in Monrovia, More Than Me Academy, into a 21-day quarantine facility for the children orphaned by the deadly virus. She bought two ambulances and organized Ebola response teams to travel the unmarked streets of the West Point slum and take those sick with the disease to the hospital. She brought care, comfort and even joy to children whose worlds were turned upside down by something they could not see, let alone understand.
The Monrovia district of West Point, where Meyler worked, and Bernardsville could not be more different. Bernardsville is a gorgeous town in the heart of New Jersey’s horse country. But Meyler is no trust fund baby. She grew up poor in this upscale town. She and her two sisters were raised by her mom, Jo Ann. Jo Ann worked overnight at a local tea factory and drove a school bus. She's so proud of her daughter's good works, she stops total strangers to tell them her daughter is in Time magazine.
You only have to spend a small amount of time with Meyler to see she is a genuine force of nature. Effervescent and positive, Meyler is seemingly unstoppable, as are some of the men and women in her hometown. There’s Debbie and Mary, who rented a moving van, filled it with masks, gloves, protective gear and anything else they could find to fight Ebola, then drove ten hours to North Carolina to load a shipping container that would carry the supplies to Liberia for free. There's 17-year-old Sophia Das and her classmates at Bernards High School who have raised $17,000 so far for Katie’s girls’ school. Their goal is to raise $50,000.
The money will come in handy. Meyler's More Than Me Academy, closed in September to help stop the spread of Ebola, will reopen next month. And Meyler's work continues with it.