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Those Touched By Ebola Recount How Their Lives Have Changed

By Judy Wiley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TNS)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Nina Pham came home still suffering from the after-effects of Ebola virus disease and found herself dealing with harsh, new realities — such as reporters hanging around outside her family’s house.

“Of course it was very crazy right after I came home, media camped outside my house and everything,” said Pham, who grew up in Fort Worth, in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “It’s just weird being normal and not seeking the celebrity and just kind of — very weird. It’s not natural to me.”

Pham, 26, was an intensive care nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas when she tested positive after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died of the virus at Presbyterian on Oct. 8.

“Whenever I found out, he had just died three or four days prior,” she said. “I was the first person to contract it in the U.S. I thought, what’s going to happen? There’s no proven treatment, so we have limited resources — it was very scary, not knowing.”

After Duncan’s diagnosis on Sept. 30, Ebola began its burn into the public consciousness, fueled by the 24-hour news cycle and a deluge of stories that ranged from repetitious to useful.

So most people knew about the virus by Oct. 12, when Pham tested positive. In fact, “What is Ebola?” was the top search on Google for 2014.

Well-wishers lined up to waved good-bye to the young nurse as an ambulance carried her to Love Field for the flight to the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., where she ultimately recovered. Her release from the hospital on Oct. 24 was covered live by the major TV networks and later that day she met with President Barack Obama in the White House before returning to North Texas.

Pham lost most of her belongings in the rush of fear and the abundance of caution that followed her diagnosis. A hazmat crew packed nearly all the contents of her Dallas apartment into blue barrels and took them away to be incinerated. Realizing a dog in Spain had been euthanized after its owner contracted Ebola, she insisted her dog, Bentley, be kept alive.

The Cavaliar King Charles Spaniel was quarantined and tested for Ebola while Pham was being treated.

“I don’t think I could have lived with myself if something happened to Bentley and not me,” she said.

He’s become a little media hound, tweeted around the world and recently part of helping a good cause.

“I’m trying to use my voice for positive things,” Pham said. “The other day Bentley and I presented a check to Dallas Animal Services. They were very instrumental in helping Bentley.”

She plans to attend a veterinary conference next month to speak about Ebola and animals.

Beyond that, Pham is still weighing her options for the future. She said she has good days and bad days physically, and still suffers from fatigue, so she isn’t ready to return to the pressures and 12-hour shifts of the ICU.

“Right now it’s a little too soon, I’m trying to focus on my health,” she said.

And she’s considering other avenues as well. She said whatever she does will probably having to do with involve nursing or with helping people, “perhaps pursuing a graduate degree or something in advocacy. There are a lot of options out there. I want to see what I can do to help people in the biggest way.”

The new ability to help in a larger sense than before also drives Dr. Kent Brantly, the Fort Worth-trained doctor who contracted Ebola while caring for patients on a mission for the Samaritan’s Purse, an international charity.

Like Pham, Brantly, 33, of Fort Worth was wrenched from obscurity onto the cover of Time magazine, which honored “the Ebola fighters” collectively as Person of the Year. Both their stories were included, and Brantly’s portrait was on one of the five covers.

He is not doctoring for now, but instead spreading the message of Ebola’s continued lethal march through West Africa, and helping Samaritan’s Purse chart the course ahead for fighting the disease.

The death toll from Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — the West African countries most affected — stood at 7,693, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Total deaths in the U.S. stood at seven, and eight people had died in Nigeria.

“Right now, I feel like the best role I can play in fighting Ebola is to stand here and be a voice for the people of West Africa who have no voice here,” Brantly said at a Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting Dec. 9, which was declared “Dr. Kent Brantly Day.”

Amber Vinson, a second young nurse who contracted Ebola virus from Duncan, also survived and the last time she surfaced publicly, said she is happily continuing with her plans to marry.

Presbyterian Hospital was not left unscathed. A series of missteps in the way Duncan’s diagnosis was handled left the hospital and its parent company, Texas Health Resources of Fort Worth, with a lot of explaining to do. But the ordeal ultimately ended in a settlement with Duncan’s family designed to help Ebola victims in West Africa.

Other area hospitals benefited from Dallas’s experience.

“Ebola’s arrival in North Texas strengthened and broadened our internal response knowledge for how to protect our employees while also providing care to victims of a possible pandemic,” said Robert Earley, president and CEO of JPS Health Network in Fort Worth.

Another life forever changed by the crisis in North Texas was that of Louise Troh, the woman Duncan came to the U.S. to marry.

One day she was a woman looking forward to starting anew with the man she loved, and a few days later she had become a pariah struggling to find a place to live. Nobody wanted anything to do with people who had been exposed to Ebola, regardless of whether they were symptomatic or diagnosed.

Ultimately, the Catholic Diocese of Dallas took in Troh, her son and two nephews at its Conference and Formation Center in Oak Cliff. She confronted the same problem even after she and other relatives completed a quarantine period at the center, and finally moved into a condo purchased by members of the Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.

Troh reportedly has a book deal to write her story — she has said it will be a love story about growing up in Liberia, meeting Duncan at a refugee camp in Ivory Coast and the events that followed.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

Missionary Who Survived Ebola Describes Ordeal

By Karen Garloch, The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There were times when missionary Nancy Writebol thought she would not survive her Ebola virus infection, the now-cured Charlotte, N.C., woman told reporters in her first public appearance since leaving an Atlanta hospital last month.

Recounting the ordeal of being placed on a specially-equipped flight from Liberia wearing a protective suit, and surrounded by medical staff who were also in suits, she recalled thinking: “I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to the United States. I don’t even know if I’m going to see my dear husband again.”

She would survive and was discharged from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Aug. 19.

On Wednesday, she appeared with husband, David Writebol, also a missionary, who was quarantined for a time on the 90-acre Charlotte campus of SIM USA, the international charity that sponsored their work in West Africa. David Writebol was released from quarantine Aug. 17 without developing symptoms after being exposed to Ebola while sharing quarters with his wife in Monrovia, Liberia.

SIM USA also released the name of a third American missionary, also a physician, who contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia. He is Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, from the Boston area. He traveled to Liberia after Nancy Writebol’s infection was announced. It is not clear whether that doctor will be flown to the United States for treatment.

He was treating obstetrics patients at ELWA hospital but was not treating Ebola patients in the hospital’s isolation unit.

Nancy Writebol, 59, left the Emory hospital after doctors declared her cured of the often-deadly infectious disease and said she could return to a normal life with “no public health threat.”

She is one of two American missionaries who were flown to Atlanta in early August to undergo treatment at an isolation unit at Emory. Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, a missionary doctor for Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, are the first two Ebola patients to be treated in the United States. And both have attributed their survival to the expertise of their health-care teams and to God.

Both Nancy Writebol and Brantly received doses of an experimental drug, ZMapp, and Brantly received a blood transfusion in Liberia from a teenager who survived Ebola infection. But health officials have said they don’t know whether those treatments contributed to the missionaries’ recovery.

Writebol and Brantly were infected while working at SIM’s ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, where Brantly cared for Ebola patients and Nancy Writebol helped decontaminate protective gear worn by health care workers when they treated patients.

Health officials have said they don’t know how Nancy Writebol or Brantly contracted the virus because they were following infection control protocols devised by the CDC and the World Health Organization. SIM officials said they also do not know how the second American doctor was infected.

More than 3,000 Ebola cases have been reported in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and 1,552 have died, for a mortality rate of about 50 percent, according to the CDC. The virus is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people who are having symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Photo: Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/MCT

Two Americans With Ebola Recover, Leave Hospital

Washington (AFP) — Two American missionaries who fell ill with the dangerous Ebola virus while working in Liberia have recovered and have been released from an Atlanta hospital, doctors said Thursday.

Doctor Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 60, became sick with Ebola in Monrovia last month, and were airlifted to Emory University Hospital for treatment.

“The discharge from the hospital of both these patients poses no public health threat,” said Bruce Ribner, director of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit.

Writebol was released on August 19, according to a statement from the aid group for which she worked, SIM USA.

Brantly appeared alongside doctors from Emory University Hospital at a press conference, smiling in a blue dress shirt and holding hands with his wife.

“After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, the Emory Healthcare team has determined that both patients have recovered from the Ebola virus and can return to their families and community without concern for spreading this infection to others,” Ribner said.

The current outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa is the largest in history and has killed 1,350 people since March in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

The president of the Christian missionary group for which Brantly worked in Liberia, Samaritan’s Purse, hailed the doctor’s “courageous spirit” as he battled the virus.

“Today I join all of our Samaritan’s Purse team around the world in giving thanks to God as we celebrate Dr Kent Brantly’s recovery from Ebola and release from the hospital,” said Franklin Graham.

“Over the past few weeks I have marveled at Dr Brantly’s courageous spirit as he has fought this horrible virus with the help of the highly competent and caring staff at Emory University Hospital.”

AFP Photo/Joni Byker

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CDC Chief: U.S. Ebola Patient ‘Seems To Be Improving’

Washington (AFP) – A U.S. doctor infected with the Ebola virus “seems to be improving,” a top U.S. health official said Sunday after the aid worker was flown back to the United States from Africa for treatment.

Kent Brantly, one of two American aid workers infected with the deadly virus in West Africa, is being treated in an isolation unit at Emory University hospital in Atlanta.

“It’s encouraging that he seems to be improving. That’s really important, and we’re hoping he’ll continue to improve,” said Tom Frieden, the director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.

“But Ebola is such a scary disease because it’s so deadly,” he added, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation.

More than 700 people have died in West Africa during the current outbreak. Since the virus emerged in 1976 it has killed two-thirds of those infected.

U.S. administration officials insisted the latest outbreak would not affect a three-day U.S.-Africa summit that begins in Washington Monday, with the participation of nearly 50 of the continent’s leaders and their entourages.

“We’ll be monitoring the situation very closely,” Valerie Jarret, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “But we’re confident that the summit will be a huge success and we will, obviously, take the precautions that are necessary.”

Frieden stressed that despite the spread of the virus in West Africa, it can be contained.

“The plain fact is, we can stop it. We can stop it from spreading in hospitals and we can stop it in Africa,” Frieden said.

“In fact, we have stopped every previous outbreak, and I’m confident we can stop this one,” he said.

Frieden said a surge of 50 public health experts in the three countries affected by the outbreak would be deployed in the next 30 days.

Brantly’s wife Amber asked for people to pray for her husband’s recovery and that of those stricken with the virus in Liberia.

“I spoke with him, and he is glad to be back in the U.S. I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital,” she said in a statement.

Christian missionary worker Nancy Writebol is expected to be airlifted back to the United States in the coming days by the same method as Brantly.

Frieden said Brantly’s wife and two children visited the doctor in Liberia but were not thought to have been at risk.

“It doesn’t spread casually and it doesn’t spread from someone who’s not sick,” Frieden said. “And our understanding is that they did not have contact with him when he was sick. ”

While Frieden acknowledged it was “possible” the U.S. could see further cases of Ebola if an infected individual entered the country after returning from the affected region, authorities were confident the disease would not gain a foothold.

“We know it’s possible that someone will come in,” he said. “If they go to a hospital and that hospital doesn’t recognize it’s Ebola, there could be additional cases.

“But I don’t think it’s in the cards that we would have widespread Ebola in this country because the way it spreads in Africa is really two things. First, in hospitals where there isn’t infection control. And second, in burial practices where people are touching the bodies of people who have died from Ebola. So it’s not going to spread widely in the US.”

In a separate development, a retired U.S. doctor working in Liberia as part of an international team revealed he had placed himself in voluntary quarantine after returning to the United States on July 25.

Alan Jamison, 69, told CNN he had shown no symptoms of the virus but had chosen to live in seclusion in Morristown, Tennessee as a precaution for a 21-day period.

AFP Photo