3 September 2014

Liberia: Guts in Difficult Times - Meet Liberia's Ebola Miracle Workers

Monrovia — Dr. Jerry F. Brown and his men pace in and out of the ELWA2 Ebola Management Center at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia over a dozen times a day caring for patients affected by the deadly Ebola virus, while at the same time trying to finalize the paperwork to release those who have tested negative for the virus from isolation.

Dr. Brown and his colleagues are seen interacting with the families of the patients, giving them hope and telling them a miracle might happen. The medical doctor admits that the job is a difficult one that takes only courage to do.

"It is very difficult, fearful, challenging, you have to have the guts to do it," he said on Friday as he released from isolation a mother of two whose husband also died right before her eyes while in isolation. The good news is that her one-year-four-month-old and her seven year-old sons who contracted the disease along with her all tested negative for the virus and were released from isolation after 21 days. Dr. Brown said despite the courage to keep working with patients who are infected with the Ebola virus, it sometimes scares the life out of him.

"Yes, I do worry but one thing for sure, anything can happen. For every person I see coming out of the unit and smiling, I have the courage to go back," he said. Dressed in Personal Protective Equipment they tend to patients who are very sick and weak waiting for a sign from God as there is no known cure for the disease.

Kyndy Kobbah a physician assistant who works at the C. H. Rennie Hospital, came into the center very sick with eleven other colleagues, ten of them died of the virus and she survived after being administered the experimental drug Z-MAPP. Kobbah paying tribute to the health workers at the all Liberian-run center said the dedication is extraordinary and selfless.

"I can imagine Dr. Brown in PPE trying to open my line (vein) but they couldn't find it for three to four hours," she told President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Saturday as she and other health worker who took the Z-Mapp drug walked out of isolation perfectly cured from the disease.

"I'm not the only person; there are lots of other patients. I wore PPE before and I know the heat that is in PPE. So they need upgrading of their salaries, Madam President, and they need more support in that unit. The food needs to come on time. Bring more support, there are lots of children in there, they need beddings, mattresses. When I came, I sent for mattresses from Margibi."

Aluminum sheeting encloses the center and a makeshift corridor lined with tiny rocks. The gravel sound is continuous through the day and night as the movement between the gates is endless. There is a hand washing facility at the door and men in suits and masks, spray the entire vicinity as people including journalists pour around the center. Health workers and volunteers who work at the center are no magical humans; they too have their fragile moments as one of the dedicated staff at the center told FrontPageAfrica on Friday.

Darlington Kumosi, head of testing at the ELWA2 Ebola treatment facility, says as a health worker, facing the Ebola crisis was nothing any of them bargained for, but it was a rude awakening to the realities of life. He said having to care for his colleagues and see them die of the deadly virus was something that was too difficult to accept. He said hope only came when a few of them started to survive, including Kobe and others who have left the center. "Anytime I see anybody who was positive before and going home negative; the only thing I can say is dear God, thank you," said Kumosi.

"When it started newly to be frank with you, I almost left the job. When Dr. Kent Brantley came down positive with the virus (he was a very good friend of mine, we worked very closely together) depression almost killed me. I used to worry in the night; I couldn't sleep. I had to quarantine myself for 21 days before I started to feel normal again."

He said somehow a miracle is working at the center as many patients who came in very sick and tested positive for the virus are now overcoming it and testing negative, thereby given the chance to go home to reunite with their families and friends. He was so happy that his colleague Kobbah and the Congolese doctor Dr. Senga Omeanga were released from isolation after being administered the Z-Mapp experimental drug.

"Her condition was very critical, when she came, she was vomiting with blood. We have had lots of positive cases here and as I tell you now, things are changing here greatly," said Kumosi. "We have lots of negative cases going home; most of those who came in positive are going home. I'm talking about people who came down with the signs and symptoms, vomiting blood, and they were admitted here, they were treated and tested two to three times, they are negative and have gone home."

A lot of Impression, More Help Needed

Korlia Bornawolo, is a Physician Assistant at the Redemption Hospital and an Ebola Survivor treated at the ELWA2 facility. He said he contracted the disease while caring for a female colleague who died from the deadly virus.

"I remember caring for her at one point in time and after some time, I fell ill and started presenting signs and symptoms of the disease," he said. "When she died, it took about 10 days, then I started to have this persistent fever that couldn't just break. After a day or two I decided to seek medical attention." President Sirleaf was impressed when she visited the center on Saturday to welcome back into the world the patients who took the Liberian government facilitated experimental drug Z-Mapp and bounced back to life.

"I wish we had more space, so we could put more people with you because you are the miracle worker. You are able to make it happen," she said. "To you Dr. Brown for all the great work you and your colleagues are doing... This is the kind of news that Liberia has been waiting for." But am humbled Dr. Brown would rather the kudos go to the nurses and health workers who work at the center to save lives and bring hope to the people in despair from the deadly virus.

"Especially these nurses, most of them are not here now, they are the pillars that are behind this work. I guide them, we work together, but they are doing extremely well," he said. Laboratory technician Kumosi sums his experience at the center in just one sentence and it is exactly how many of those who work at the center feel when fighting the deadly virus. "Coming from here going home is like leaving from hell, going to heaven," he said.

44 Survivors and counting

Dr. Brown said there has been a total of 44 confirmed Ebola patients that have survived the disease after care at the center. He said the two patients were released from isolation in July while the other 42 were released in August. But Dr. Brown says the death rate continues as people fall victim to the disease and expresses that the survival of many is nothing less than a miracle.

"It is by the grace of God that we have fourteen people coming out again today," he said as he presented more survivors to the world on Monday. "My heart beats with joy as we put these people out today because there has been many times in there, where we shed tears for people as they die.

Good News; Bad News

The good news continues yet the bad news keeps coming out every day. On Tuesday, the humanitarian medical organization that runs the ELWA hospital announced that that one of its missionary doctors in Liberia has tested positive for the Ebola virus. "The American doctor was treating obstetrics patients at SIM's ELWA hospital in Monrovia," the release of the organization's website in Charlotte, North Carolina stated.

"He was not treating Ebola patients in ELWA's Ebola isolation unit, a facility separate from the main hospital on the mission organization's 136-acre campus. It is not yet known how the doctor contracted the virus specifically." The organization stated that it would hold a press conference at its Charlotte, N.C., and headquarters on Wednesday, Sept. 3, at 2:30 PM to provide additional and updated details on the doctor's condition.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW), up until 29 August, the cumulative total of suspected, probable, and confirmed cases of the deadly Ebola virus disease in Liberia was 1,631, including an updated total of 392 confirmed cases. The cumulative total of deaths stood at 907, including 326 confirmed Ebola-related deaths. These are the most updated figures released by the MoHSW.


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