25 Years Later: Remembering Patti Stone
Steve Dennie, Communications Director
On September 2, 1981, Bishop Clarence Kopp, Jr., had a unique encounter at a restaurant in Huntington, Ind. He met a man he had nudged toward the Lord 20 years before, when he was pastoring Prescott Avenue UB church in Dayton, Ohio.
It was a home visit during a conference evangelism workshop. As Kopp explained the Four Spiritual Laws to this man, fellow minister Rev. Howard Anderson held the man’s baby daughter in his lap. The man didn’t want to accept Christ then, so Kopp left him a piece of paper on which he had written out the Four Spiritual Laws. The man kept the paper and reread it almost daily. Finally, he did become a Christian.
What was he doing in Huntington, 20 years later? He was bringing his daughter to Huntington University.
The girl’s name was Patti Stone.
Patti started her college education at Huntington University and then transferred to Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan) in Marion, Ind., to study nursing.
Wendy Feusse, who worked at Huntington University, joined a small work crew from the college which traveled to Sierra Leone in January 1985. They were joined by Michelle Becker and Patti Stone, two former Huntington students who were now intern nurses from Marion College.
In Freetown, the group went to the beach with some Peace Corps workers. A huge wave hit the raft Wendy was using, and she found herself floating facedown, paralyzed, unable to move. Patti saved her life that day. But that was only the beginning of what Patti did for Wendy.
“From the time I painfully entered the van until the following day,” Wendy recalled, “she served as my personal nurse. She held my hand, talked to me about my fears, helped me laugh, reassured me, prayed with me, loved me. We hardly knew each other. But somehow, she understood what I was going through, as I lay on my bed feeling lonelier than ever and enduring the most pain I have ever experienced. I will never forget that special time of healing.”
At Mattru, Wendy says, “I was amazed by Patti as I watched her in action. She walked around the hospital like she had grown up there. Many Sierra Leoneans already knew Patti; they were drawn to her. She related almost naturally to the people and the environment. You could tell she loved being there. It radiated from her.”
Patti later applied for missionary service at Mattru. She arrived there in May 1987. She was joined by her classmate at Marion College, Michelle Becker.
“Patti was a go-getter, a fantastic nurse,” said Michelle Becker. “If someone else couldn’t get an IV inserted, Patti often could. She was confident and courageous. She wasn’t afraid to try new procedures. When anything exciting was happening, Patti wanted to be present. When a job needed to be done, Patti was there to help.”
She added, “Patti had a real gift for learning the Mende language, and a keen desire to do so. She worked hard at learning the new vocabulary and intonations of the Mende language. Because she loved the people and their language, the nationals came to love her.”
One mother walked 10-15 miles from her village, carrying her critically-ill child to Mattru Hospital. Patti donated blood for the child, who recovered and was discharged the next morning.
“Patti had a passion for village life,” said Michelle. “She would rather have lived in the village than on the mission compound.”
She recalled Patti spending three weeks in one village in November 1987, loving it so much she didn’t want to move back into Harmony House, the single nurses’ residence. Often, on her weekend off, she went to be with her friends in the village. “She loved the village people and the simplicity of their lifestyle.”
Patti served a year at Mattru. Then, during the week of May 15, 1988, she fell ill and showed symptoms of hepatitis. Dr. Ron Baker, chief medical officer at Mattru, called Bishop Jerry Datema on May 22. Ron strongly urged that Patti be evacuated to facilities better equipped to treat her.
Her condition continued to deteriorate rapidly. She became increasingly delirious. And the next morning, Monday, Patti slipped into a coma, from which she never emerged.
On Monday, May 23, Patti and Dr. Dan Metzger flew from Mattru to Freetown aboard the Sierra Leone president’s private helicopter. Since her illness hadn’t been identified and nobody knew how contagious it might be, she couldn’t leave the country on a regular commercial flight. Instead, the UB mission chartered a specially-equipped medi-vac Lear jet from Munich, Germany. The plane arrived at Lungi airport outside Freetown at 4:05 Tuesday morning and left with Patti and Anne Spores, wife of UB Business Manager Darrel Spores, at 5:20.
Patti was admitted to the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, a facility with connections to the US Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga. She received expert care from specialists, but didn’t respond to any treatment.
Patti Stone passed away Wednesday morning, May 25, 1988. She was 25 years old, and had been in Sierra Leone for just one year.
Even after the autopsy, doctors were puzzled. But on Monday, May 30, cause of death was determined as Fulminant Hepatitis A, a disease which progresses very rapidly and is nearly always fatal in adults.
Patti’s body arrived in Dayton, Ohio, on June 5. Because of strict regulations concerning infectious disease, the Missions department needed a special waiver from the US State Department. The funeral was held June 7 at Patti’s home church, Prescott Avenue.
In June 1988, a few weeks after Patti’s death, Jane Baker, wife of Dr. Ron Baker, wrote a letter to Patti.
“You loved the Africans, and they knew it. You respected them. You had an insatiable eagerness to learn about them. You didn’t ask missionaries about cultural things…you asked the Africans. No wonder you learned so much in your short time in Sierra Leone.
“We all admired you for your determination to conquer the Mende language. Most of us figured it was too hard to learn and gave up. Not you! You stuck with it, and that endeared you to the people here.
“There’s a big gap at the hospital with you gone. You were an excellent nurse, conscientious and compassionate. You were hard working, known for going the extra mile.
“It’s not the same here on the hospital compound without you, either. We miss the sound of your laughter drifting here and there. We miss seeing you buzz around on your Honda 100, helmet on, in a hurry to go down to the local market, or to a Mende lesson, or more often than not, to your friends out in your beloved adopted village, Karleh.
“It was God who caused your path to cross with the people of Karleh, and neither you nor they were ever the same afterward. Early on, during your three-week intercultural stay in Karleh, you and the villagers became bonded; you became their daughter…Aminata Karleh. Only you and they know all the love, learning, and laughter that flowed during your frequent visits there.
“At the special memorial service that the villagers held for you, the small group of believers spoke lovingly, with tear-filled eyes, of how you had encouraged them. We’re convinced we will see friends from Karleh in Heaven because you loved them to Jesus.
“When we think of you, Patti, how can we not remember your love for animals? Your reputation as Nurse Doolittle will be an act no one can live up to. You amazed us all with your fascinating menagerie of animals.
“We smile when we think of them: the pet hawk you trained to follow you, light on your arm, and eat from your gloved hand; C.J., your mischievous Gray Mangabey monkey; your adorable, but short-lived antelope fawn; your squawky parrot; and your chickens that hatched in your bedroom!
“You told us once that just as some people feel close to God when they’re out in nature, you felt close to God when caring for your pets and enjoying their companionship.
“We remember you as a unique and very special young woman. You were always on the go, constantly thinking up creative ways to improve things at the hospital, asking hard questions, bursting with ideas and goals…and life! We remember you as a free spirit, not bound by the way things have always been done. We remember you as an unusually devoted daughter, often speaking of your mom, writing her, making tapes to her, and excitedly planning a trip to Europe with her this summer. We remember you as someone who loved God deeply. We knew you were striving to know him better, wanting to grow deeper in your faith, not content with easy answers.
“We miss you, Patti. You were one of us, one of our family. But after one short year here, God chose to call you to him.
“Countless times our sad, confused minds have asked ‘Why God? Why Patti? Why now?’ We still don’t understand why you were taken from us so quickly, but we cling to our trust in a loving and good and sovereign God. And so, dear friend, we thank God for our year together.”
Michelle Becker wrote this about her friend, classmate, and fellow nurse:
“She gave her all to whatever she did. She worked hard, and she played hard. She loved Sierra Leone, and her heart’s desire was to spend her life there. I guess that, in reality, she did.”