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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Ebola victim ‘scared death in face’

  • Dr. Kent Brantly went to West Africa to work for a Christian relief organization
  • He recalls feeling “a little off” on July 23, then testing positive for Ebola virus
  • Brantly says he had “no reserve,” didn’t know if he could continue breathing
  • He did and — after time at an Atlanta hospital — was declared symptom-free
(CNN) — Dr. Kent Brantly had stared death in the face many times, doing all he could against frightful odds to save Ebola victims in West Africa.


In his first extensive on-camera interview since contracting the virus, Brantly recalled to NBC News on Tuesday how close he had come to being one more of the over 1,500 people the World Health Organization says have lost their lives to Ebola in the current outbreak.
Doctors never told him outright he might not survive as he lay in a bed in Liberia, an ocean away from his family. They didn’t have to.
“I felt like I was about to die,” Brantly told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “And I said to the nurse taking care of me, ‘I’m sick. I have no reserve, and I don’t know how long I can keep this up.’”
A health worker wearing a protective suit conducts an Ebola prevention drill at the port in Monrovia on Friday, August 29. Health officials say the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the deadliest ever. Senegalese Health Minister Awa Marie Coll-Seck gives a press conference on August 29 in Dakar to confirm the first case of Ebola in Senegal. The health minister announced that a young Guinean had tested positive for the deadly virus.Volunteers working with the bodies of Ebola victims in Kenema, Sierra Leone, sterilize their uniforms on Sunday, August 24. A Liberian Ministry of Health worker checks people for symptoms of Ebola at a checkpoint near the international airport in Dolo Town, Liberia, on August 24.A guard stands at a checkpoint on Saturday, August 23, between the cities of Kenema and Kailahun in Sierra Leone, which have been quarantined due to the Ebola outbreak. A burial team from the Liberian Ministry of Health unloads the bodies of Ebola victims onto a funeral pyre at a crematorium on Friday, August 22, in Marshall, Liberia. A humanitarian group worker, right, throws water in a small bag to West Point residents behind the fence of a holding area, as they wait for a second consignment of food from the Liberian government to be handed out in Monrovia, Liberia. The military began enforcing a quarantine on West Point, a congested slum of 75,000, fearing a spread of the Ebola virus.Dr. Kent Brantly leaves Emory University Hospital on Thursday, August 21, after being declared no longer infectious from the Ebola virus. Brantly was one of two American missionaries brought to Emory for treatment of the deadly virus, which has killed more than 1,350 people in West Africa since March, according to the World Health Organization.Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, right, hugs a member of the Emory University Hospital staff after being released from treatment in Atlanta on August 21. Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum in Monrovia, Liberia, while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Wednesday, August 20.An Ebola Task Force soldier beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on August 20.Local residents gather around a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on Tuesday, August 19. The boy was one of the patients that was pulled out of a holding center for suspected Ebola patients after the facility was overrun and closed by a mob on August 16. A local clinic then refused to treat Saah, according to residents, because of the danger of infection. Although he was never tested for Ebola, Saah’s mother and brother died in the holding center.A burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home near Monrovia on Sunday, August 17. lija Siafa, 6, stands in the rain with his 10-year-old sister, Josephine, while waiting outside Doctors Without Borders’ Ebola treatment center in Monrovia on August 17. The newly built facility will initially have 120 beds, making it the largest-ever facility for Ebola treatment and isolation. Brett Adamson, a staff member from Doctors Without Borders, hands out water to sick Liberians hoping to enter the new Ebola treatment center on August 17.Workers prepare the new Ebola treatment center on August 17.A body, reportedly a victim of Ebola, lies on a street corner in Monrovia on Saturday, August 16. Liberian police depart after firing shots in the air while trying to protect an Ebola burial team in the West Point slum of Monrovia on August 16. A crowd of several hundred local residents reportedly drove away the burial team and their police escort. The mob then forced open an Ebola isolation ward and took patients out, saying the Ebola epidemic is a hoax.A crowd enters the grounds of an Ebola isolation center in the West Point slum on August 16. The mob was reportedly shouting, “No Ebola in West Point.”A health worker disinfects a corpse after a man died in a classroom being used as an Ebola isolation ward Friday, August 15, in Monrovia.A boy tries to prepare his father before they are taken to an Ebola isolation ward August 15 in Monrovia.Kenyan health officials take passengers’ temperature as they arrive at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Thursday, August 14, in Nairobi, Kenya.A hearse carries the coffin of Spanish priest Miguel Pajares after he died at a Madrid hospital on Tuesday, August 12. Pajares, 75, contracted Ebola while he was working as a missionary in Liberia.A member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leads a training session on Ebola infection control Monday, August 11, in Lagos, Nigeria.Health workers in Kenema, Sierra Leone, screen people for the Ebola virus on Saturday, August 9, before they enter the Kenema Government Hospital.A health worker at the Kenema Government Hospital carries equipment used to decontaminate clothing and equipment on August 9.Health care workers wear protective gear at the Kenema Government Hospital on August 9.Paramedics in protective suits move Pajares, the infected Spanish priest, at Carlos III Hospital in Madrid on Thursday, August 7. He died five days later.Nurses carry the body of an Ebola victim from a house outside Monrovia on Wednesday, August 6.A Nigerian health official wears protective gear August 6 at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta sit in on a conference call about Ebola with CDC team members deployed in West Africa on Tuesday, August 5.Aid worker Nancy Writebol, wearing a protective suit, gets wheeled on a gurney into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on August 5. A medical plane flew Writebol from Liberia to the United States after she and her colleague Dr. Kent Brantly were infected with the Ebola virus in the West African country. Nigerian health officials are on hand to screen passengers at Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Monday, August 4.A man gets sprayed with disinfectant Sunday, August 3, in Monrovia.Dr. Kent Brantly, right, gets out of an ambulance after arriving at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Saturday, August 2. Brantly was infected with the Ebola virus in Africa, but he was brought back to the United States for further treatment.Nurses wearing protective clothing are sprayed with disinfectant Friday, August 1, in Monrovia after they prepared the bodies of Ebola victims for burial.A nurse disinfects the waiting area at the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia on Monday, July 28. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, right, walks past an Ebola awareness poster in downtown Monrovia as Liberia marked the 167th anniversary of its independence Saturday, July 26. The Liberian government dedicated the anniversary to fighting the deadly disease. In this photo provided by Samaritan’s Purse, Dr. Kent Brantly, left, treats an Ebola patient in Monrovia. On July 26, the North Carolina-based group said Brantly tested positive for the disease. Days later, Brantly arrived in Georgia to be treated at an Atlanta hospital, becoming the first Ebola patient to knowingly be treated in the United States.A 10-year-old boy whose mother was killed by the Ebola virus walks with a doctor from the aid organization Samaritan’s Purse after being taken out of quarantine Thursday, July 24, in Monrovia.A doctor puts on protective gear at the treatment center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, on Sunday, July 20.Members of Doctors Without Borders adjust tents in the isolation area in Kailahun on July 20.Boots dry in the Ebola treatment center in Kailahun on July 20.Red Cross volunteers prepare to enter a house where an Ebola victim died in Pendembu, Sierra Leone, on Friday, July 18.Dr. Jose Rovira of the World Health Organization takes a swab from a suspected Ebola victim in Pendembu on July 18.Red Cross volunteers disinfect each other with chlorine after removing the body of an Ebola victim from a house in Pendembu on July 18.A dressing assistant prepares a Doctors Without Borders member before entering an isolation ward Thursday, July 17, in Kailahun.A doctor works in the field laboratory at the Ebola treatment center in Kailahun on July 17.Doctors Without Borders staff prepare to enter the isolation ward at an Ebola treatment center in Kailahun on July 17.A health worker with disinfectant spray walks down a street outside the government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on Thursday, July 10. Dr. Mohamed Vandi of the Kenema Government Hospital trains community volunteers who will aim to educate people about Ebola in Sierra Leone.Police block a road outside Kenema to stop motorists for a body temperature check on Wednesday, July 9.A woman has her temperature taken at a screening checkpoint on the road out of Kenema on July 9.A member of Doctors Without Borders puts on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea, on Saturday, June 28.Airport employees check passengers in Conakry before they leave the country on Thursday, April 10.CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, left, works in the World Health Organization’s mobile lab in Conakry. Gupta traveled to Guinea in April to report on the deadly virus.A Guinea-Bissau customs official watches arrivals from Conakry on Tuesday, April 8.Egidia Almeida, a nurse in Guinea-Bissau, scans a Guinean citizen coming from Conakry on April 8. A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA and test for the virus Thursday, April 3, at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou, Guinea.Members of Doctors Without Borders carry a dead body in Gueckedou on Friday, April 1. Gloves and boots used by medical personnel dry in the sun April 1 outside a center for Ebola victims in Gueckedou.A health specialist works Monday, March 31, in a tent laboratory set up at a Doctors Without Borders facility in southern Guinea.Health specialists work March 31 at an isolation ward for patients at the facility in southern Guinea.Workers associated with Doctors Without Borders prepare isolation and treatment areas Friday, March 28, in Guinea. Ebola outbreak in AfricaPhotos: Ebola outbreak in AfricaSirleaf: Saddened by global responseMan escapes Ebola clinic in LiberiaCDC director: Ebola is ‘out of control’
He’d been well schooled on how to treat disease, from his days at Indiana University’s medical school to his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’d contacted Ebola back in the United States, there would have been many more machines and assets available to help him get better.
Brantly didn’t have all those tools at his disposal this summer in Liberia, where hospitals shut down after becoming “incubators for the disease,” according to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
He did, however, have his ardent faith and whatever strength that his body could muster.
Relying on both was his best, only hope of someday reuniting with his wife and two children, who had returned to the United States a few days before his diagnosis.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to continue breathing this way,’ and they had no way to breath for me if I quit breathing,” he said.
Yet he didn’t stop. Brantly kept fighting Ebola and — unlike many of those he’d treated — he won.
Drawn to mission work since youth
Wife ‘scared,’ knowing how deadly Ebola is
The thing is, while Brantly would never have chosen to contract Ebola, he did choose to go to West Africa. His reasoning was simple: People there needed help and, feeling it was God’s calling, he wanted to help.
So, in 2013, he began a two-year fellowship through the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Brantly started off practicing general medicine but, when Ebola began spreading, he took on the role of medical director for the group’s Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia.
That was his job when he woke up the morning of July 23.
“I just felt a little off, I felt a little warm, a little under the weather,” Brantly told NBC, adding he then discovered he had a temperature not too much above the 98.6 degree baseline.
His only relief was that his wife, Amber, and their children hadn’t woken up next to him, that he didn’t have to carry “an overwhelming mental burden” of worrying if they too had come down with the disease. For while Ebola can take days to incubate, it’s only contagious when a sufferer is symptomatic — something Brantly didn’t have to worry about with his family.
Yet the family had plenty of reason to worry for Brantly after he tested positive for Ebola.
“I’d seen him treat these people who had already been diagnosed, and I knew how it ends,” his wife Amber told NBC. “… I had the disadvantage of having the knowledge of the course of the disease. I was scared.”
She wasn’t the only one. According to his hometown newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, Kent Brantly himself told a fellow doctor at John Peter Smith Hospital that he was “terrified.”
“I’m praying fervently that God will help me survive this disease,” Brantly said in an email to Dr. David McRay, the newspaper reported.
Beats odds and survives
Somehow, he did.
According to WHO, more than half of those afflicted with Ebola in this current outbreak have died — a function of how devastating the disease can be as well as a function of where it struck the hardest, a place without widespread high-quality health care options and cultural and social factors that may have contributed to its spread.
Yet Brantly made it through those first few trying weeks. On August 2, he was whisked back on a medical plane to the United States, walking into Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital in a white, full-body protective suit.
Ebola patient walks into Atlanta hospital
His new home was Emory’s special isolation unit, where his interactions with others were strictly restricted to prevent the virus from spreading. Amber visited him, for example, though she could only see him through a glass wall and talk to him via an intercom.
By August 21 — two days after Nancy Writebol, an American missionary who had worked with Brantly who also came down with Ebola and got treatment at Emory — it was a different story.
He hugged and shook hands with nurses and doctors who he, just a few days earlier, hadn’t been able to touch. Dr. Bruce Ribner, the head of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit, declared that he posed “no public health threat” and could go free.
“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said then. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”
Still, he realizes the fight against Ebola is far, far from over. And it’s still personal. Brantly said that he learned Tuesday morning that a doctor he’d worked with in Liberia — another American, like him and Writebol — had tested positive for the virus.
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