Detroit-area native with Ebola called humble, dedicated

Kim Kozlowski and Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Dr. Craig Spencer

As controversy swirled Friday around the nation's fourth confirmed Ebola case, family and friends of Grosse Pointe Woods native Dr. Craig Spencer described him as humble and dedicated.

The doctor — who graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine and now lives in New York City — grew up in the Detroit suburb, said his uncle, Arnold Spencer.

"He's my nephew. I love him and I am praying for him," said Spencer, who declined to elaborate further.

Asked how his nephew was doing, Spencer said he did not know. He said he hadn't seen him in years but called him a "wonderful person."

Spencer, who grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods, graduated from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2008.

Craig Spencer, 33, an emergency medicine physician for Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, recently returned from Guinea, where he was treating Ebola patients for Doctors Without Borders.

He did not have symptoms upon his return. But on Thursday, he began developing a 100.3-degree fever along with nausea, fatigue and pain. He is being treated in an isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, and is reportedly in stable condition.

Before his symptoms developed, Spencer rode the subway, took a cab, went bowling, visited a coffee shop and ate at a restaurant in the week after he came back to New York.

Friday, scientists and ordinary New Yorkers questioned why he was out on the town after his return from West Africa.

Health officials said he followed U.S. and international protocols in checking his temperature every day and watching for symptoms, and put no one at risk. But others said he should have been quarantined during Ebola's 21-day incubation period.

Spencer's fiancee and two friends are currently in isolation.

The doctor earned his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and graduated from WSU's medical school in 2008.

"It doesn't surprise us that one of our medical students was working for an organization like Doctors Without Borders in helping the under-served," said Matt Lockwood, a spokesman for Wayne State University.

"A lot of our students come to Wayne State for its reputation of working with the under-served," Lockwood said. "Our thoughts are with him, and we wish the best for him."

Murali Krishnan, left, talks to Dolores Kosowan about their former neighbor, Dr. Craig Spencer.

Murali Krishnan, 52, of Grosse Pointe Woods, a former neighbor of Craig Spencer, said he considers him as a son.

Spencer has been a mentor for Krishnan's son Abhinav, 26, encouraging him to go to medical school. The elder Krishnan describes the doctor as down to earth. "He's shown us how to be humble," he said. "He's a real encouragement. He's someone to be proud of."

Krishnan said he believes the hospital is following the proper protocol and Spencer is getting the treatment he needs. "He'll be well protected," he said.

Krishnan's daughter Mithila Krishnan, 22, said she has known the Spencer family for about 14 years and considers his sister Andrea as a big sister to her. The news about Spencer getting Ebola stunned her family.

"We were all in shock," she said. "Absolute shock."

Mithila Krishnan said she never knew Spencer to want to do anything other than medicine. "He's always wanted to help people," she said.

Mithila Krishnan said she's been in contact with the family. "They're holding up the best they can," she said.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Chris Profeta said he immediately recognized Spencer, a former classmate at Grosse Pointe North High School, when he saw a news report that Spencer was affected by the Ebola virus.

Though Profeta said he didn't know Spencer well, he recalled he was soft-spoken, with a good reputation.

"He was a nice guy, well-liked by everybody," Profeta said. "When all the Ebola stuff started, I took it seriously. I thought they'd get it figured out. It's a little different when you recognize the name of someone. It makes you realize real people are being affected. It shocked me into paying attention."

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged residents not to be alarmed by the doctor's diagnosis. De Blasio said all city officials followed "clear and strong" protocols in their handling and treatment of him.

New York City health commissioner Mary Bassett said the probability was "close to nil" that Spencer's subway rides would pose a risk. Still, a bowling alley was closed as a precaution, and Spencer's Harlem apartment was cordoned off.

Not all New Yorkers were mollified by the official precautions and assurances. Many were on edge Friday.

Veronica Lopez, a 21-year-old student, was feeling especially jittery because she lives in a Harlem building next door to that of Spencer.

For the moment, Lopez was planning to decamp to suburban Westchester, north of the city. "I'm going home to my parents tomorrow," she noted. "I'm sure we're fine. But it's right next door!"

Michele Wilson, a freelance TV producer, said she'd been uninvited to a dinner gathering Thursday because she lives in the same building as Spencer. "Suddenly I'm ostracized because I live in a building with an individual who had not even at that point been diagnosed with Ebola," Wilson said.

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The Associated Press contributed.