There is a wooden plaque in the shape of Africa on the wall across from the water fountain as you enter the church. Set within the plaque is a picture of Charlotte Shaw, a missionary nurse and former member of TBC who gave her life on the mission field. Charlotte was taken on for support in November of 1957 and died on February 13, 1969. She served in Nigeria, West Africa, working among lepers. Nigeria is highlighted on the plaque.
In January of 1969, an American missionary nurse by the name of Laura Wine came down with a mysterious disease that did not respond to treatment. She was transported to the hospital where Charlotte served. She died 24 hours after arrival. Charlotte was one of two nurses who attended to Laura’s needs. Among the care she gave was a cleansing of Laura’s mouth with gauze wrapped around her index finger. Earlier that morning Charlotte had pricked her finger while plucking flowers for another patient.
A week after Laura Wine died, Charlotte became very ill. At first she thought she had a migraine headache, however she soon developed a fever unresponsive to antibiotics. She died 11 days after she had become ill. Worried and confused by the death of these two nurses, Dr. Jeanette Troupe decided to do an autopsy on Charlotte. She was assisted by the head nurse, Penny Pinneo, who became violently ill with a 103 degree fever and severe ulcers in her mouth. Nurse Pinneo was ultimately flown to New York along with samples of tissue and fluids from Laura Wine and Charlotte Shaw. A specialist in tropical diseases at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center worked with a team from the Yale Arbovirus and Yale Public Health and Epidemiology Department to identify the mystery virus. They developed an anti-serum using antibodies from Nurse Pinneo. Penny Pinneo ultimately survived and returned to Nigeria to continue her missionary work.
The mystery disease came to be known as Lassa Fever, after the place from which it came, which was Lassa, a village of about 1,000 people. Late in 1969, Lassa Fever again broke out in the area, killing a number of people, although others survived the out-break. Among those who died in this out-break was Dr. Troupe, who led the autopsy on Charlotte Shaw. The story of Lassa Fever became the subject of Fever! The Hunt for a New Killer Virus by John G. Fuller, published in 1974 by Reader’s Digest Press. A television documentary also was made about Lassa Fever, with much of the filming done in the area where Charlotte Shaw served.