A surgeon who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone arrived in Nebraska Saturday for treatment at a biocontainment unit where two other people with the disease have been successfully treated.
Dr. Martin Salia, who was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday, landed at Eppley Airfield in Omaha on Saturday afternoon and was being transported to the Nebraska Medical Center. The hospital said the medical crew transporting Salia, 44, determined he was stable enough to fly, but that information from the team caring for him in Sierra Leone indicated he was critically ill and likely in worse condition than other patients treated in the U.S.
“Although the patient’s exact condition won’t be available until doctors here evaluate him after he arrives, information coming from the team caring for him in Sierra Leone indicates he is critically ill – possibly sicker than the first patients successfully treated in the United States,” the hospital said in a statement.
The disease has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leona. Of the 10 people treated for the disease in the U.S., all but one has recovered. Salia, a Sierra Leone citizen who lives in Maryland, will be the third patient treated for Ebola in the Nebraska hospital’s Biocontainment Unit.
Salia was working as a general surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown. Kissy is not an Ebola treatment unit, but Salia worked in at least three other facilities, United Methodist News said, citing health ministry sources.
The U.S. State Department said it was helping facilitate the transfer of Salia. His evacuation was at the request of his wife, a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland and who has agreed to reimburse the U.S. government for any expense, the State Department said in a statement. The travel costs and care of other Ebola patients flown to the U.S. were covered by the groups they worked for in West Africa.
According to The Guardian, hospital officials said they hope to be able to provide Salia with some sort of experimental treatment, such as convalescent therapy, which involves the use of antibody-rich blood and plasma from Ebola survivors to stimulate the immune response.
Although the effectiveness of convalescent therapy is still under investigation, the approach has been used successfully with several U.S. Ebola patients, including Dr. Kent Brantly, who received a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy in Liberia and then donated his own plasma to at least three patients: Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted the virus while treating Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan; physician Rick Sacra, who has since recovered from Ebola after treatment at Nebraska Medical Center; and Ashoka Mukpo, a news cameraman recently released from the same Nebraska hospital.
Most recently, Dr. Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who contracted the virus in Sierra Leone, was given a transfusion from Nancy Writebol, one of the first American survivors. He has since been released from Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
Salia’s wife, Isatu Salia, told CBS News that when she spoke to her husband early Friday his voice sounded weak and shaky. But he told her “I love you” in a steady voice, she said. The two prayed together, and their children, ages 12 and 20, are coping, Isatu Salia said, calling her husband “my everything.”
Salia came down with Ebola symptoms on Nov. 6 but tested negative for the virus. He was tested again on Monday and tested positive. It wasn’t clear whether he has been involved in the care of Ebola patients.
Sierra Leone is one of the three West Africa nations hit hard by the worst Ebola epidemic in history. Five other doctors in Sierra Leone have contracted Ebola, and all have died.