Thursday, December 25, 2014 5:41 pm
The World Health Organisation, WHO, reports that although Ebola is a severe, often fatal disease, getting medical care early can make a significant difference. The international health agency further states that currently, about one out of every three Ebola patients survive. Many of them are now using their experience to help fight the disease in their community.
Here are their stories as compiled by WHO:
Austin S Jallah, Liberia
Twenty-eight-year-old Austin is one of more than 360 Liberian health workers who have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus during this outbreak.
One day back in August, while doing his day-to-day job of treating patients in the hospital, he had contact with an Ebola patient without knowing the person had the disease.
“I gave medication to a patient in the emergency room but I had no idea that he had the virus. I interacted with him, and later on I found out that he had died of Ebola. From the very moment I heard this, I quickly went to the hospital and I reported myself, informing my colleagues that I had contact with the Ebola patient,” he recalls.
Austin was then monitored closely by his colleagues. Three days later, he developed fever and started to vomit. He was taken by an ambulance to ELWA 2, one of the Ebola treatment units in the capital city Monrovia.
“When I was admitted into the Ebola treatment unit, I was very much in pain. The whole experience was traumatic for me. The virus really destroys your immune system,” he says. “While I was inside the Ebola treatment unit, I felt very bad. Fourteen of my health worker friends were infected and taken to the ETU. Ten of them died. I am 1 of only 4 who survived, so I thank God for that.”
After 20 days inside the Ebola treatment unit, Austin received some good news. The results of his second polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test came back negative. The following day, Austin was on the list of people to be discharged from the treatment centre.
“The health worker told me quickly about my discharge and asked me to call and inform my parents and my friends,” he says. “I will never forget that phone call, I was just so happy! I took a bath and I was given new clothes to put on, including new slippers. I had to leave all my belongings that I had in the ETU, my cell phone, money… I left it all there. The hygienist sprayed me for the last time, then I was able to leave the treatment centre.”
Since September, Austin has been working as a WHO ‘expert patient trainer’.
“The president of the Ebola survivors’ association, who knows me well, contacted me. WHO was looking for Ebola survivors with a medical background to become expert patient trainers. So that is how I started working for WHO,” Austin continues.
Only people who have been sick with Ebola virus disease and recovered from this traumatic experience can truly explain what it was like and what their needs were during their illness. That is why a group of Ebola survivors with a medical background were asked to play a critical role in WHO’s training programme for health workers on Ebola care.
Austin is now part of a mobile WHO training team, teaching other survivors how to play the role of patient again so that they can become trainers as well.
“I am grateful that my Ebola experience can impact the knowledge of our health workers and help to eradicate this disease from Liberia,” he says.
Abdullah D., Guinea
When Abdullah D. saw a doctor in the hospital close to his home in Conakry in late March 2014, he had high fever, headaches and felt very weak. The doctor immediately called in the infectious disease experts who arranged for Abdullah to be admitted to the country’s isolation facility at Donka, one of the biggest hospitals in the Guinean capital Conakry. When a laboratory test confirmed that Abdullah was infected with Ebola, he was devastated.
“I spent 10 days in the isolation ward,” says the 29-year-old father of twins who works as a retailer in the Guinean capital. “I was convinced that I would never again see my wife and kids.”
Abdullah was cared for by specialists from the Guinean Ministry of Health supported by doctors and nurses from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and WHO, who are working together to run the isolation ward at Donka Teaching Hospital.
“Abdullah was very weak and unwell when he first arrived at Donka,” says Dr Tom Fletcher, a WHO infectious disease expert who came to Guinea to help with the outbreak response. “I wasn’t sure he would survive. But his case shows that the care people are getting in the isolation ward is crucial and improves their odds of survival.”
Doctors and nurses at Donka fought for Abdullah’s life for 5 days. Finally, his condition improved and his fever went down. When he had gone a couple of days without any symptoms including fever, diarrhoea, vomiting or bleeding, they took a new blood sample.
Abdullah waited impatiently for the results and was incredibly pleased and relieved when he heard that the sample was negative.
“I felt as if I was reborn and could not wait to hug my twins again,” he says. “The doctors really took great care of me and I’m telling everyone that people who are infected need to go to the hospital.”
Rebecca Johnson, Sierra Leone
For many people, December 22 was the beginning of the holiday season. But for Rebeca Johnson, a Sierra Leone nurse who survived Ebola, it marked a return to work – and a new lease on life.
“I will take the work normally as I did before. I will wear the full PPE, but I won’t ever be scared again because I have immunity,” the Ebola survivor said.
Last weekend, as she prepared to return to work, she told her story to WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, and received a warm hug in return. “It felt good when she (Dr. Chan) hugged me,” said Rebecca, “I really appreciate all you people who have come to help us.”
Now fully recovered, Rebecca always carries her hospital discharge certificate to prove her good health. “In my community, I am stigmatized and people talk about me. They say: ‘there she is, she’s the one with Ebola,’ but I know I am safer than them.”
Rebecca, a 28-year-old nurse caring for people with Ebola virus disease at the Police Training School (PTS) Hastings I, in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, developed symptoms of the disease herself on 14 November. “My mind would not think Ebola. No, it was not possible. I was paralyzed with vomiting for days,” she narrated.
She vividly remembers the shock on her colleagues’ faces when her family brought her in, not to work, but to seek treatment. She says: “it was hard for all of us, but thank God I survived.”
And now, having survived the disease she is not only returning to work to care for people with Ebola but spreading the word that Ebola can be beaten. “I want Ebola to finish so we can get back to normal. My country is drowning – no schools, the economy is in ruins. It’s not easy,” she lamented.
Other survivors speak:
Mohammed Cisse, Guinea
When I started to have symptoms and heard about the results of my blood test, it was a very difficult moment. I was really afraid for my life. There were some rumours about the origin of the disease, but once people saw that even health workers like myself were infected they trusted us more.
I am very lucky to have survived Ebola and also lucky that I am getting good support from my family, because we (survivors) and every family of those who died need a strong support system to help us go through this painful experience.
Bintu Massaquoi, Sierra Leone
I hope no one in my family or my community or anywhere whether I know them or not, ever suffer the trauma of this disease Ebola. The most important thing for me at the moment is to see an end to this outbreak and the suffering that people are going through.”