To my followers: I have not written many blogs in the past months due to my intermittent international travel since December 2022. There is so much to write about after visiting the Middle East and Africa in that time period. But, today I want to focus on the passing of a man who I wish I had known. After reading his obituary, you may understand. Some of my readers did know him, others may have known someone like him. We all need a hero to look up to.

Dr. Paul Mertens was a person I had only heard of when I lived in Liberia from 1971-73 as a Peace Corp volunteer. He worked in another part of the country at that time and our paths never crossed. When I became the chief editor of Never the Same Again and two of our anthology authors wrote about him in their stories, I knew my reverence of him was accurate. Then in 2021, I met him in a Zoom gathering of Friends of Liberia (FOL) members. There he was on my monitor, bigger than life. I choked and teared up as I greeted him on the screen. Dr. Mertens was as humble in his Zoom presence as everyone said he was.

Below are excerpts from the two stories in our anthology written about him.

Excerpt from “Zorzor, Liberia: One Health…One World” by Karen Hein, MD

As a twenty-five-year-old, fourth-year medical student from Columbia University’s College of Physicians in New York, I arrived in the fall of 1969 to spend my two-month elective in upcountry Liberia. It was my “Peace Corps equivalent” experience, since it was the only time I could carve out in my burgeoning medical career. I thought I was coming to learn about diseases and treatments. And I did, when upon arrival I ran directly into a measles epidemic in the villages around Zorzor….

During my first day, I was introduced to Dr. Paul Mertens, the only physician serving as part of the Lutheran Mission. His calm demeanor, coupled with his constant motion, made him seem omnipresent as he moved from making rounds on the patients, to being the surgeon in the operating room, often lit by a kerosene lantern when the generator was down….

Dr. Mertens wrote a four-by-six-inch reference guide for me containing the common illnesses, parasitic, and bacterial infections that we were able to treat with our limited supplies. The card contained the name of the medication, dose, condition or diagnosis, plus the cost of treatment: fifteen cents for a daily treatment for hookworm or ascaris worms; four dollars for a fourteen-day course of tablets to treat Onchocerciasis volvulus (the cause of “river blindness”). I carried this card with me wherever I went on the hospital grounds, on vaccination treks through the jungle, and on short flights to reach more isolated communities.

Dr. Mertens knew everything about each person. The X-ray machine produced images that had to be read immediately before the ever-present mildew and mold would turn their images of lungs or broken bones into a picture of opaque fern patterns, making it impossible to read….

Excerpt from “A Lassa Fever Journey” by Judy Marcouiller

I guess the fact that I’d survived a rare hemorrhagic fever virus didn’t sink in until after I was discharged from the hospital and regained my strength in a Monrovia guesthouse in January 1979. I overheard the guesthouse owner talking on the phone about a “contagious” Peace Corps volunteer…

I later learned that the reason I had no visitors while hospitalized was because of Dr. Paul Mertens, a USAID researcher who stopped in to ex-amine me after he’d heard that a Lofa volunteer was hospitalized. He took one look at the rash on my face and body, guessed it was Lassa, and spread the word that no one was to visit. He knew that approximately fifteen to twenty percent of patients hospitalized with Lassa fever died from the illness….

After a few weeks (and twenty pounds lighter), I recovered enough to be discharged. Once I was moved to the Peace Corps staff house, Dr. Mertens reappeared to draw a blood sample that he sent to the CDC in Atlanta. When it came back positive for Lassa antibodies…

(Judy and Dr. Mertens in Minneapolis years later)

Here is the cover book blurb Dr. Mertens wrote regarding our Anthology, Never the Same Again: Life, Service, and Friendship in Liberia.

I laughed and wept alongside the authors as they told of their experiences in the steamy, tropical country of Liberia. I couldn’t put the book down until the final page. These powerful stories and poems still resonate deep within me.
Dr. Paul Mertens, Physician, Curran Lutheran Hospital, Zorzor, Liberia, 1963-75, Lofa County Rural Health Project, 1975-80.

I will be thinking of Dr. Mertens on April 22, 2023 as he lay to rest with his family by his side and his multitude of friends from around the world. Here is the link to his service to view it Virtually at 11AM CDT:

Please consider purchasing our Anthology, Never the Same Again. All proceeds will benefit humanitarian programs in Liberia, the African country and her people that Dr. Mertens loved so much. Click on this link below for previous blogs regarding our anthology including readings from some of the authors.

Enter your thoughts and memories about Dr. Mertens below.

17 thoughts on “I Wish I Had Known Him

    1. Thank you so much Phil. I had never met Ester Bacon either, but I understand she was another angel. I’m wondering if they stopped making people like that anymore. These are icons we can only aspire to. Thank you for your comment and your service to the world. Susan, AKA Gowee Sue


    2. Oh Mary , Donna and Mark … all so beautifully said about your Dr Paul. So so humble. Never in all the years of being next door did I/ we ever hear him speak of himself and all the good he brought to Liberia and the world. Much love to all and see you Saturday. We have a new angel in heaven 💜

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your comments, Sharon. Dr. Paul Mertens’ reach across the globe was far and wide. And here I am, a former Peace Corps volunteer and the author of this blog who had never even met him, but yet I can feel his soul, presence and impact he had on so many. We have some big shoes to fill. Maybe, collectively we can!!! Heaven is so lucky to have him.


  1. You’ve put together such a nice tribute to Dr. Mertens, Susan – thanks SO much! He truly made an impact in Liberia and am sure everywhere else he ventured in life. Such a kind and yet humble man. After he played such a critical role during my 1979 Lassa Fever journey in Liberia, I was fortunate to see him during his tenure at the Columbia Park clinic in Minneapolis , and then again more recently at Global Health Ministries while we packed supplies to be sent to Liberia for the Ebola outbreak in 2014. We are all inspired by Dr. Mertens’ dedication to helping others; he was indeed a hero.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there EVER were two angels that walked this earth they were Dr. Mertens, and his head nurse Ester Bacon. She went to lLiberia, Zorzor mission hospital as a medical missionary, when a person had to BUSH WALK there from Monrovia! She died in the Lasa Fever outbreak at the Zorzor missionary hospital. Both of them I knew well, and considered as Dearest of friends

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hello Judy, Doctor Mertens was a hero indeed. Thanks to Dr. Hein’s and your story noted in the blog, you both put a face to his kindness and his bush doctor skills that could never be replaced.


  2. It is humbling even just to learn about all the good Doctor Paul Mertens and Nurse Ester Bacon did for their fellow human beings, even at great peril to themselves. They are true heroes. Thank you, Susan for your part in sharing their story with the wold, and for your own selfless service to the people of Liberia, and elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sonia and Mike. I really hope to keep these stories alive as long as I can. I would hate for all the wonderful service we have done abroad to not be known or understood. Also thank you for your service in The Gambia.❤️


  3. We had the esteem honor to know both Dr. Paul Mertens and Esther Bacon while living in Zorzor. Pat worked with them at Curran Hospital as a young ELCA missionary RN in 1970-71. Jim was a Peace Corps volunteer teaching at Zorzor Central Junior High School and coordinating self-help construction projects in Zorzor District. We both recognized them for their selfless excellent health care of everyone who came to Curran Hospital and as “saints” even at that time.
    In April 1972 Lassa Fever was first identified in Liberia with an outbreak at Curran Hospital. There is a chapter in the book “FEVER!, The Hunt for a New Killer Virus” by John G. Fuller (Reader’s Digest Press, 1974) about Liberia. The chapter describes Dr. Mertens role in helping to identify Lassa Fever and the treatment and care of Esther Bacon who contracted and who tragically died of Lassa Fever in April 1972.
    Another book, “OUTLAW FOR GOD, The Story of Esther Bacon by J. Barney Dibble, M.D. (THE CHRISTOPHER PUBLISHING HOUSE, 1974) traces the life of Esther’s 41 years working in Zorzor District at Curran Hospital and with Dr. Mertens from 1963-72.
    Dr. Mertens was the editor for “The Handbook for HEALTH PERSONNEL in Liberia”. The 406 page handbook project was supported by USAID and RBHS (Rebuilding Basic Health Services in Liberia Project). Today the Handbook is used by healthcare workers throughout Liberia and is used at schools or nursing and nurse midwifery in Liberia.
    Our lives have been greatly enriched by knowing and working with Dr. Mertens and his wife, Donna.
    Jim and Pat McGeorge

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your comments on Dr. Mertens and Ester Bacon, RN. Your references to the three books are priceless and will help others to learn more about these incredible people. The mold was broken when Dr. Mertens and Ester were created. I have learned from you in a later email that people who worked with or knew Dr. Mertens are coming from around the nation to honor him at his service on April 22, 2023. Thanks again to you, Jim and Pat, for your continued service to Liberia both then and now.


  4. Hello Susan. My name is Mary Mertens and I am the daughter of Dr. Paul Mertens. Jim and Pat McGeorge sent me your blog post about my father. I just read it out loud to my mother and we have both been in tears. Thank you so much for your lovely words. I keep thinking of more things I should have included in the obituary. There are just too many stories I could share about my father! We shared a special bond and he was such an inspiration in my own life and career in international public health and humanitarian work. I miss him dearly. Thanks again for your touching tribute to my father.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Mary,
      Thank you for writing during your time of great loss. You were so fortunate to have a father such as Paul. Some of us could only dream of a mentor and father such as yours. I wish you and your family strength and guidance during this difficult time.


  5. Dr. Mertens is one of those special, dedicated induviduals God placed on earth to remind us that there is still good around us and someone who places others above themselves. Unfortunately, I too did not have the pleasure of ever meeting him. I got to Zorzor area once during my time in Liberia, and fortunately did not have to use the services of the hospital there ( rather I visited the United Methodist Mission Hospital in Ganta for a total of 37 days). I also never was aware of Lassa fever during my tour (71-73) until near the end. I just don’t recall strong communication links between Peace Corps Monrovia and us PCVs in the field. We were pretty much on our own, truly an adventure!
    I have purchased a copy of your latest efforts, Susan, and am enjoying the read, although I find it hard to make a connection between more recent Volunteers there than during the time of our service. However, your work is excellent!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Randy,
    Thanks for continuing to follow my blogs and your comments are always valued and appreciated. Yes, back in the early 70s we (Peace Corps volunteers) were really on our own in the bush in Liberia. I had many challenges and at least one near death experience as I wrote about in my my memoir, but I did come out alive and a much better person for it. I realize the more recent volunteers have a vastly different experience from ours, yet not any less valuable for them in their time. Think about us and our grandchildren. We walked to school and they are dropped off in a big SUV. We all have something to gain and something to lose.


    1. Dear, l was not available to attend. Cheryl
      and I were driving to Santa Monica to attend a function. I was awarded the Slid Road Learning Center for Homeless Children 2022 Tutor of The Year Award. I got a glass “trophy, big gold medal “The President’s Volunteer Service Award” along with an award letter signed by President Biden! I am flattered beyond words.
      Hugs + a Smooch, YourBuddy Phillip
      Sent from my iPhone


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