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4:56 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

American Doctor Sick With Ebola Now Fighting For His Life

Originally published on Tue July 29, 2014 7:31 pm

A doctor trained in Fort Worth, Texas, is now a victim of the Ebola outbreak he was battling.

Kent Brantly, 33, had been caring for Ebola patients in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, for several months when he noticed he had symptoms of the deadly virus last Wednesday.

He immediately put himself into an isolation ward.

"He is still conversing and is in isolation. But he is seriously ill with a very grave prognosis," says Dr. David McRay, of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, who spoke to Brantly by phone on Monday.

"Kent is a calm, confident, focused individual, with a deep calling for the work that he's doing," McRay says.

After Brantly completed his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in 2013, he traveled to West Africa with his wife and two children to work with the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse.

Then the Ebola outbreak started in March. Samaritan's Purse asked Brantly to direct the group's Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia.

Since then, about 1,200 people have fallen ill with Ebola, and more than 670 have died across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There's no treatment for the disease, which spreads when people come into direct contact with bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood, diarrhea and vomit.

Brantly knew providing health care in Liberia would be challenging — and that was even before the Ebola epidemic. But caring for people in need, his friends say, was always what he wanted to do.

Even now, Brantly wants people to focus on the larger epidemic, not just his illness, McRay says. "Many people are infected with Ebola in Africa, and many people are not surviving," he says. "And Kent does not see his situation as unique in any way."

Two other members of Brantly's medical team in Liberia also contracted Ebola. One died. The other, American Nancy Writebol, is still sick.

Brantly says he isn't sure how he got infected. He's certain he didn't violate any safety guidelines.

Samaritan's Purse is working with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the source of contamination at the ward, says the group's spokesperson, Melissa Strickland.

Brantly was working with nearly two dozen Ebola patients, but Strickland says he followed strict protocols. He covered every inch of his body before entering the Ebola ward in a protective suit. "It would take at least 30 minutes to get that suit on properly," she says.

Although the mortality rate has been about 60 percent in this Ebola outbreak, doctors on the ground say good supportive care early does help. And ideally, Brantly would be evacuated to a hospital in Europe or the U.S., Strickland says. So far that hasn't been possible.

"There are organizations that will not transport Ebola patients," Strickland says, "either because they don't have the isolation protocols in place that would be necessary, or because of the fear of transporting an Ebola patient."

Brantly's family returned to the U.S. last week for a visit, before Brantly began showing symptoms. It's highly unlikely that his family caught the virus from him, the CDC says.

Copyright 2014 KERA Unlimited. To see more, visit http://www.kera.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. The worst Ebola outbreak in history has claimed the life of another top doctor. Doctor Sheik Umar Khan had been treating infected patients in Sierra Leone. He was praised as a national hero. Health ministry officials in the country confirmed his death today. And we begin this hour with a look at the toll the disease is taking on health workers. We'll also ask how far scientists are from having an Ebola vaccine.

CORNISH: More than 670 people have been killed across West Africa this year, mostly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. That's where an American doctor is fighting for his life. Kent Brantly is 33 years old and was trained in Fort Worth, Texas. Lauren Silverman of member station KERA begins our coverage.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: For the past few months, Kent Brantly has been caring for Ebola patients in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. Then, on Wednesday, he realized he had a fever, one of the first signs of the disease. He immediately put himself into an isolation ward. From there, his condition deteriorated.

DAVID MCCRAY: He is still conversing, and he's in isolation, but he is seriously ill with a very grave prognosis.

SILVERMAN: Doctor David McCray has been a close friend since Brantly started his residency at Fort Worth's John Peter Smith Hospital in 2009. The two spoke Monday, and McCray says Brantly was tired and quiet, but remains in good spirits.

MCCRAY: He's very firm in his resolve that he made the right decision, that this was a calling that he accepted and that he is where he needs to be.

SILVERMAN: After completing his residency in Texas, Brantly, his wife and two kids headed to west Africa to work with the Christian aid group Samaritan's Purse. When the epidemic broke out, he was asked to become director of an Ebola isolation ward in a Monrovia hospital. Brantly says he's certain he didn't violate any guidelines, and isn't sure how he got infected. Brantly new providing healthcare in Liberia would be challenging, and that was even before the Ebola epidemic, but caring for people in need, his friends say, is always what he wanted to do.

KENT SMITH: He intentionally cares about other people more than he cares about himself. He's a great guy.

SILVERMAN: Kent Smith attended the same Fort Worth church as Brantly for years. Smith and worshipers gathered at the Southside Church of Christ earlier this week to pray for Brantly. Two other members of Brantly's medical team in Liberia also contracted Ebola. One died and the other American, Nancy Writebol, is still sick. There is no cure for Ebola, and about 60 percent of patients die, but doctors on the ground say good, supportive care early does help.

CEDRIC SPAK: Getting somebody who's sick like that back to a 21st-century hospital with all its supportive measures would be potentially life-saving.

SILVERMAN: Cedric Spak is an infectious disease specialist at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. He's done medical work in rural Nigeria, and says hospitals in developing countries often lack infection control measures and supportive care that are standard in the U.S. Melissa Strickland, a spokesperson with Samaritan's Purse, says they explored trying to evacuate Brantly and Writebol to a hospital in Europe or the U.S. but haven't been able to do so.

MELISSA STRICKLAND: There are organizations that will not transport Ebola patients because they do not have the kind of isolation protocols in place that would be necessary, or just because of the fear of transporting an Ebola patient.

SILVERMAN: Brantly's family returned to the U.S. last week for a wedding. Brantly didn't have any symptoms when he last saw his family, and the CDC says people with Ebola are only contagious when they're showing symptoms. David McCray says his friend, Brantly, wants people to focus on the larger epidemic, not just his illness. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Silverman in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.