This Thanksgiving, six American Ebola survivors are thankful just to be alive for the holiday ― and for the chance to do it all over again.
Dr. Kent Brantly, Dr. Rick Sacra, aid worker Nancy Writebol, nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, and journalist Ashoka Mukpo met for the first time Wednesday on the “Today” show, and they all agreed: Ebola is a dreadful disease, but their work is worth the risk.
“I don’t think we can really compare war stories. This is a horrible experience for anybody who goes through it,” said Dr. Brantly, a missionary doctor who was brought to the U.S. for treatment from Liberia on Aug. 2 and released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Aug. 21.
The six survivors ― who all contracted the virus while either treating Ebola patients or reporting on the epidemic ― said they have no regrets about their choices. All said they would still help Ebola patients if they could do it all over again.
“I’m thankful for God’s grace and the second chance and the opportunity just to continue to serve, possibly back in Liberia,” said Writebol, who developed Ebola in July while caring for patients in Liberia. Dr. Sacra, who also contracted the virus while on a health mission to Liberia, shared a similar sentiment, telling host Matt Lauer: “I’m thankful for the opportunity to go back.”
Pham and Vinson both contracted Ebola at a Texas hospital while treating the first patient to be diagnosed with the disease on U.S. soil. Both said they’re happy to care for all patients ― even those with the deadly virus. “Nursing is a calling,” Pham said on the “Today” show. “It’s just in our personalities and in our nature to help whoever needs help.”
Mukpo, who was working for NBC News as a freelance journalist in Liberia when he contracted the virus, made mention of other survivors who failed to get the same attention as he did during his recovery. “I’m thankful for all the brave men and women in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone who put their lives at risk to deal with this epidemic,” he said. “They’re the real heroes.”
The six had not met as a group before, but many were already connected: Dr. Brantly ― the first of the six to recover ― donated possibly life-saving plasma to many of the other survivors. “He’s a selfless man and he’s like our angel and gave us a second chance at life,” Pham said. “It’s just amazing that you gave so much to all of us. Thank you,” added Mukpo.
Aside from their health, the survivors said they’re thankful for the “little things” ― “like when I’m cooking, smelling the food as I cook, doing laundry, feeling the warmth and the smell of laundry right out of the dryer,” Vinson said.
Missing from the Wednesday reunion was Dr. Craig Spencer, who was declared Ebola-free earlier this month after he becoming infected while treating patients in Guinea. Two other Ebola patients have died on U.S. soil: Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S., and Dr. Martin Salia, a Maryland-based surgeon who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone and was flown to the U.S. to receive treatment at Nebraska Medical Center before ultimately succumbing to the virus.
The 2014 Ebola epidemic has killed 5,689 people in West Africa this year. At least 15,935 people have been diagnosed with the virus since the outbreak began in March. Despite signs of progress in Liberia, the situation is worsening in Sierra Leone, where the virus is “spreading intensely“, and officials on the ground warn that new hotspots are still emerging across the hard-hit region.