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Ebola: A Medical Drama Unfolds


June to July -- The number of Ebola patients treated at ELWA hospital increases steadily.  “Our amazing crew at ELWA Hospital took care of each patient with great care and compassion. We also took every precaution to protect ourselves from this dreaded disease,” Brantly says.

July 20 -- Brantly takes his wife and children to the airport for a planned visit to the U.S. After they left, “I poured myself into my work even more than before.”

July 22 -- Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the doctor leading the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, learns from a test he's caught the virus. He is quarantined in a medical ward run by MSF.

Doctors that work for the WHO offer Khan’s medical team an experimental drug that’s never been given to people. It’s called ZMapp. They have a small box of frozen samples.

“There was only one box of drugs in the whole African continent” that might fight the disease, says Richard Furman, MD, a retired surgeon and co-founder of World Medical Mission, the health care arm of Samaritan’s Purse.

Hoping Khan could pull through on his own, his doctors declined the treatment.

“They decided it was too much risk,” Furman says.

July 23 -- Brantly says he wakes up feeling “under the weather.” He isolates himself at the hospital.

July 26 -- Brantly and Nancy Writebol, a missionary serving as a personnel coordinator for SIM, another medical missions organization, are confirmed as having Ebola, according to Ken Isaacs.

“He [Brantly] is such a meticulous physician. He does everything almost to perfection. I just couldn’t believe that he had gotten it,” Furman recalls.

For Furman, the news was especially hard to bear. He had helped to make the decision to send the Brantlys to Liberia.

“It’s a tough time to realize that someone we chose to go could be dying from Ebola. It was just a tough time,” he recalls.

Samaritan’s Purse is offered the same box of frozen ZMapp serum samples that was extended to Khan’s care team. They take it.

July 29 -- Dr. Sheik Umar Khan dies in Sierra Leone.

July 31 -- With his condition deteriorating rapidly, Brantly is given a dose of the experimental treatment, ZMapp.

Furman gets updates via telephone every 6 to 8 hours from Lance Plyler, MD, the doctor treating Brantly in Africa.

Plyler tells Furman that Brantly’s temperature is “sky high” and his breathing is rapid at 40 respirations per minute. Normally adults take 12 to 16 breaths per minute.

“Our doctor there said he didn’t think he was going to make it. That was the first time they ever said that,” Furman recalls.

“That’s when he got the medicine,” Furman says. “And it was remarkable. His temperature starts down and his breathing started slowing down, and for the first time, he said, ‘I think I’m going to make it.’”

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