The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed almost 700 lives, and infected over a thousand, has been a devastating blow to the region. However, doctors must face a terrifying choice: to work in Ebola wards and willingly expose themselves to one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.
Ebola, which has no cure, causes headaches, nausea and diarrhea, during the first stages of the disease (which is an imperative time for treatment and survival). However, for an unlucky majority, the symptoms quickly progress into hemorrhagic fever, with blood red eyes, and the annihilation of all major organs (including skin), destroying the patient’s body.
So let’s take a moment to recognize and memorialize these brave doctors, who, at the top of their field, have been struck down while trying to make a difference and save lives.
An American doctor, who flew to Liberia under the charity Samaritans Purse, was reported last week to have contracted the deadly virus. He has been taken in for intensive therapy in Monrovia’s ELWA Hospital. Although he started treatment early, as of print, his outlook was “grave.” He is suffering from the initial stages of the disease, and doctors are working around the clock to ensure it doesn’t progress to the later, deadlier stages.
The 33-year-old married father of two had said before he was “terrified” of contracting the disease. However, when Ebola began to spread in Liberia, where he was already working, he was asked to make an incredibly difficult decision: would he work in the Ebola isolation units? He did, and despite full body protective gear and showers to decontaminate, he still grew ill.
From his bed he sent a message out to his church and family: “I’m praying fervently that God will help me survive this disease. Please continue to pray along with me and pray for my friend Nancy who is also very sick, and for the doctors who are taking care of us. Thank you all so much. Peace, Kent.”
Sheik Umar Khan
Described as a ‘national hero’ in Sierra Leone after taking care of more than 100 Ebola patients, Sheik Umar Khan passed away Tuesday, as confirmed by Dr. Brima Kargbo. With a reputation for checking and double checking his protective gear, it is still unclear how Khan contracted the disease. A tiny puncture hole in any protective garment can expose doctors to the illness, so Khan installed mirrors in his office for a full body inspection before he went into quarantine wards.
He told Reuters during an interview that he called the mirrors his “policemen.” He also foreshadowed his sickness, quoted as saying, “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life…Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.”
The Health Minister of Sierra Leone has vowed to do everything they could to “ensure he survives”, but even the best medical treatment can fail when combating this virus. The 39-year-old virologist was receiving treatment in the east of Sierra Leone, in a medical facility run by Doctors Without Borders.
His infection was preceded by the death of three nurses, who worked alongside Khan, who were infected by Ebola the same week he started to show symptoms.
A Liberian doctor with a distinguished career as Chief Medical Doctor at Liberia’s John F. Kennedy Hospital sadly succumbed to Ebola last week. After a long career working in some of the top medical centers around the country, including being the medical adviser to the former Liberian President Charles Taylor, he was the first doctor to join the 129 other Liberians who already perished from the disease.
When Ebola arrived in Liberia, Dr. Brisbane was ready and begun treating people to the best of his abilities. After falling ill, he first elected to treat himself at home, as not expose anyone else to the deadly disease. However, he was soon carried into a medical facility on the outskirts of Monrovia, where he passed away.
The day he died, which marked Liberia’s national day of independence, the President gave a speech promising to create new task forces to spread awareness and help bring down the disease. The death of this high-profile doctor, however, has shaken those in Liberia to the core.
Dr. Samuel Muhumuza Mutoro
A Ugandan national who went to Liberia under a prestigious job for the WHO (World Health Organization), Dr. Muhumuza succumbed to the disease in early July. He was known for lending a hand in desperate situations, having spent his time in Uganda working in refugee settlements.
He flew to Liberia three years prior to work as a surgical specialist and when Ebola broke out, he stepped up to help those in need. However, after months of working to ensure medical attention to all, he contracted the disease and succumbed quickly to the infection.
After his death in Liberia, he was recognized by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for his selfless work and awarded Liberia’s Order of African Redemption posthumously. The statement from the President read: “It is in recognition of his collaborative and selfless service to the Liberian people that the government deeply shares a sense of sorrow with the government and people of Uganda and his family to whom the Liberian nation is morally indebted.”
The death has been especially difficult on his family members, who cannot, for health reasons, claim his body for the next month, as it will still contain the Ebola virus within it. They were also advised against visiting his grave site in Liberia due to the health concerns there. His widow relates that he contracted the virus while attending to a neglected patient.