In his first public comments since nearly dying in Africa last month, the American doctor who contracted Ebola while working as a medical missionary says he is still haunted by those he couldn’t save.
“I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them,” Dr. Kent Brantly said in a written statement. “I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name.”
Brantly’s account came in a press release from Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian humanitarian organization he had been working for.
“I am writing this update from my isolation room at Emory University Hospital, where the doctors and nurses are providing the very best care possible,” he wrote from Atlanta. “I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease.”
Fellow American Nancy Writebol, 59, also contracted the highly contagious and deadly Ebola virus while serving alongside Brantly in West Africa. Both were gravely ill for several days in Monrovia, Liberia, before a special air ambulance was sent to bring them to Atlanta for treatment. They are the first patients ever known to be treated for Ebola in the United States.
“I also want to extend my deep and sincere thanks to all of you who have been praying for my recovery as well as for Nancy and for the people of Liberia and West Africa,” Brantly said.
The World Health Organization on Friday declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency. Nearly 1,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria have died after getting infected by the virus. There is no treatment or vaccine for Ebola, but health officials say it can be contained if the sick are immediately quarantined and vigilant sanitation practices are followed. The virus has been known to kill up to 90 percent of those infected.
Brantly, a 33-year-old Texas-trained doctor, went to Liberia last October to serve as a general practitioner, delivering babies and performing surgeries.
“One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places,” he wrote Friday. “When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients.”
His wife, Amber, and their two young children had returned to Texas in mid-July to visit relatives. Brantly was due to join them before becoming sick.
“When I started feeling ill on that Wednesday morning, I immediately isolated myself until the test confirmed my diagnosis three days later,” he said. “When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding. God was reminding me of what He had taught me years ago, that He will give me everything I need to be faithful to Him.
“Now it is two weeks later, and I am in a totally different setting. My focus, however, remains the same — to follow God. As you continue to pray for Nancy and me, yes, please pray for our recovery. More importantly, pray that we would be faithful to God's call on our lives in these new circumstances.”
David Writebol, Nancy’s husband, said his wife remains weak but is improving. It has not been revealed how Brantly or Writebol contracted the virus.
Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).