The deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD), which ravished the nation and brought it to its knees in 2014, has left in its wake stories that will be told for generations. It has even gone down in Liberian and world history as the worst form of the EVD ever to hit mankind. The World Health Organization (WHO) said 10,666 persons contracted the virus in Liberia. Of that number, nearly 5000, precisely 4,806 died from the virus. More than half of that number was cremated, which is totally against the traditional manner in which Liberians handle their dead.
However, there are hundreds of others, who, by the grace of God, survived the scourge. One of the survivors, who has credited his survival from the disease to God’s miraculous intervention “in the affairs of man” is Dr. (MD) Kent Brantly.
Dr. Brantly was the first American to contract the EVD, while trying to selflessly save his patients, who had come to the Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) Hospital’s emergency room. Brantly had, by then, been working with ELWA for at least eight months. He had to be flown back to his home country for advanced medical treatment. After spending three weeks at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, he walked out of the hospital an EVD survival.
Our Health Correspondent caught up with him last Thursday, on the compound of ELWA hospital. He had come back to extend thanks and appreciation to his Liberian and US colleagues who looked after him when he fell sick before he was flown out of Liberia. Below is the interview:
Daily Observer(DO): The Daily Observer is with Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the Americans who contracted the deadly Ebola virus disease in Liberia. He had to be flown back home for treatment and he’s back in Liberia. Welcome to this interview, Sir.
Dr. Kent Brantly (KB): Thank you very much.
DO: Now tell us why you are back in Liberia.
KB: I came back to see my people (chuckled).
DO: Your people?
KB: I came back to see the people who are my friends and colleagues, co-workers and brothers and sisters for the time that I lived and worked here to tell them thanks; to thank the Government of
Liberia for all that they did to make my treatment possible. To celebrate and rejoice with all of Liberia for May 9 that it has come and gone and that there’s no more Ebola in Liberia right now. It was very important for me and my family to get to come and see people who mean so much to us; who prayed for us and took care of me when I was sick.
DO: If I am understanding you right, you have not come back finally?
KB: No, we are not back yet finally. We are just here for a short visit. We are trying to discern the future and see what God would have us do in the future, but right now that’s still all up in the air.
DO: Why have you changed your mind and don’t want to stay in Liberia?
KB: I love Liberia very much. I love the Liberian people. This really was our home for those nine months. There is nothing that makes me not want to come back to Liberia. I was supposed to be here for two years and the two years are almost up but because of my illness and things that have happened since then, life is just very different so my wife and I are trying to determine what next step to take.
DO: Life is so different, are you saying that life has become difficult for you now?
KB: Not that it’s so difficult. It’s that we expected to be living here for two years. All of a sudden we are back in America. We didn’t expect to be there. Our circumstances are so different than we ever could anticipate. And now it is like having to go back to the drawing board to figure out what we are doing next.
DO: Are you proud that you are an Ebola survivor?
KB: I don’t think I can use the word proud. I am very thankful to have survived Ebola.
DO: For our readers’ sake, could you give us your experiences that you had when you were infected with the virus?
KB: It was very difficult…
DO: Difficult, what do you mean?
KB: I saw in my own body the same symptoms that I had watched so many of my patients go through with the running stomach and the vomiting and the bleeding. All of the patients I had seen patients with all those symptoms had died except for one who survived in the small unit at that time. So not only are those things difficult physically, but as a physician, seeing those same symptoms in my body was so difficult to deal with knowing that I was probably going to die.
DO: Did you fear that you were going to die if you had stayed in Liberia?
KB: It wasn’t just the matter that I was going to die if I stayed in Liberia or not but I felt that I was going to die because I had Ebola, whether I was here or in America. I was trusting in God through my illness. I was thinking about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, those three Hebrew boys, who were told to bow down to the King’s idol. They refused and the King said ‘I am going to throw you into the fire.’ They said, ‘O King live forever. Our God can save us and He will but even if He doesn’t, we won’t bow to your idol.’ I was saying to God, I know that you can save me but even if you don’t I want to remain faithful. I was trusting in God in all of it.
DO: Tell us about the moment on the day you landed back in the United States. I saw a clip of you walking from the ambulance into the hospital. What was going through your mind?
KB: To be honest with you at that moment, I had no idea about the significance about what was happening. I was in that ambulance with one paramedic. He’s the one who had helped me walk off the airplane and had put me in the ambulance. He said to me, “Do you think you can walk into the hospital?” And I said I don’t know how far it is. And he said, “It’s not very far. It’s right there, but there are some stairs.” Then I asked, “How many are they, are they more than jet steps?” Because coming down the plane had been so difficult. And he said, “Well, it’s probably more but they are not as big and steep.” He also said, “But if you can’t do it, we’ll wheel you in on the stretcher. But if you can walk, we’ll just go in through this door right here.” And I said ok.
I had no idea that there were news helicopters flying above us. I had no idea that the world was watching and I didn’t know that Franklin Graham, the President of Samaritan’s Purse, in a meeting a few days earlier had said that “Wouldn’t it be a testimony to the power of Jesus Christ if Dr. Brantly walks off that airplane!” I had no idea about that but I think that is exactly what it was. So many people have told me that seeing me walk off that ambulance, they praised God and it gave them hope, but at the time I had no idea that it was so significant.
DO: Doc, during your explanation like this, what feeling comes to you when you are explaining what happened to you?
KB: It’s not hard for me to do that, it reminds me of what God has done in my life and that is my motivation for who I am and what I do. For me to recall my own story reminds me of the power of God and of his calling on my life to love Him and to love my neighbor. Sometimes it brings up emotions but it also reminds me of my God and Who I am supposed to be for Him.
DO: What message do you have for those Liberians who turn down Ebola survivors and give them all sorts of names?
KB: I think it is really sad for Liberian Ebola survivors to have a stigma against them because they have been through so much. I saw a bumper sticker on a car that said, ‘All Liberians are survivors.’
That’s very true. We need to remember that all Liberians are survivors especially those who had the sickness. They’ve been through even more. We need to not be stigmatizing them. We need to be having even more compassion on them.
DO: We understand that there was a 14-year-old boy who had donated blood to you when you were sick. Have you met him since you came back?
KB: Not yet but I hope to.
DO: But have you been in contact with him since you got well?
KB: Yes, I was able to send him a letter and I was able to get word from him that he had received my letter. I will always be thankful to that boy and to his family for their willingness to donate blood for me when I was sick. I thank God for them.
DO: Back in the States, how long did you stay in the hospital?
KB: Almost three weeks.
DO: After you were discharged, there was this image of you and President Barack Obama. Tell us what was happening in that meeting.
KB: Since I was released from hospital and recovered, I have had the opportunity to meet the President of the United States to testify before Congress of the United States, both the Senate and House of Representatives about Ebola and in all of those meetings, I tried to emphasize the real urgency in getting the United States and the international community to respond and come to the aid of West Africa. It was a tremendous honor to be able to play that role, to call for help in those ways. It was tremendous to be able to do that.
DO: Doc, what do you hope to see the Liberian Government do when it comes to improving our health sector in order to prepare for any future epidemic?
KB: I had the great privilege to attend the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland just a month ago with the United States delegation. The focus of the whole meeting was building resilient health care systems. Ebola has highlighted the need for resilient health systems, not just meeting the Millennium Development Goals but having systems that can absorb and respond to problems like this Ebola outbreak. I think my hope for Liberia is not limited to the health sector. For the Ministry of Health to have a resilient health system, you need to have a resilient community. I think it is more complex than simply building better hospitals or clinics. That is a big part of it but it also has to do with education and infrastructure and the rebuilding of communities and the economy. They are all pieces of the big puzzle. So my hope is that in the years to come Liberia will build herself into a resilient community.
DO: Personally, how hard has this been for your wife and kids?
KB: When I was sick, it was very difficult for my wife in America, 3,000 miles away from me, but she was surrounded by families. She was with her family and my family. That was a tremendous blessing. They really supported her. She received emails and messages from I think 40 different countries, of people saying ‘We are praying for you.’ And so we had a lot of encouragement and support during that very difficult time. My children are very young: they are six and four. They knew at the time that I was sick but they didn’t know that I had Ebola. They knew about Ebola; you know we have been living here and everybody in Liberia knew about Ebola. We didn’t tell them until I had recovered and we told them exactly what it was. We are so incredibly thankful to God to be able to come back to Liberia, this place that we had to leave so suddenly. My wife and children had left and gone to the States for a family wedding, expecting to be gone for about two weeks and then they would come back and now it’s been almost a year. I was not expecting to leave when I did or the way I did and it was all very sudden. So we are so thankful to be able to come and visit this place, to thank the people and to rejoice and celebrate with Liberia.
The last portion of this interview will appear in our next Health Column on Tuesday, July 7.