Dr. Kent Brantly, the first person on American soil known to be infected with deadly Ebola virus, arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base on Saturday aboard an air ambulance. Then, after being transported to Emory University Hospital, he walked into the hospital assisted by a health care worker.
Brantly is the first of two Americans working in Liberia who have come down with the infection -- during a particularly virulent outbreak that has killed hundreds in West Africa -- and who will be treated in an isolation unit at Emory.
"It was a relief to welcome Kent home today," said his wife, Amber, in a statement issued by the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse. "I spoke with him, and he is glad to be back in the U.S. I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital."
A specially outfitted Gulfstream jet delivered the doctor to Dobbins from Liberia late Saturday morning; he was transferred to an ambulance, which then set out for Emory. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, video taken from WSB-TV's NewsChopper 2 overhead showed a moon-suited worker helping Brantly, also covered from head to toe in a containment suit, step tentatively from the vehicle. Walking backward while holding both the patient's hands, the worker then made his way into the hospital a few steps away, leading Brantly through the door.
The second patient, missionary Nancy Writebol, is expected to arrive at Emory in the next few days.
A public outcry has arisen over the decision to bring the deadly contagion into the United States, and people have been quick to point out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has had recent and highly publicized lapses in handling dangerous microbes.
But CDC officials, Emory doctors and other public health experts insist there is little risk to the public in bringing Brantly and Writebol into the country. They point out that Ebola is not spread through the air but requires close contact with infected bodily fluids to move from one person to another. In addition, they point out that treatment here is the best chance both patients have at surviving the virus.
At Emory, the two will be staying in a small two-bed unit that was specially built to treat patients with dangerously infectious diseases.
Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist at Emory who will be involved in Brantly's care, told the Associated Press that the hospital's isolation unit is well-equipped to handle patients with diseases that are even more infectious than Ebola. The unit is one of only four of its kind in the nation.
There is no cure, nor even a specific treatment, for Ebola infection. The patient either fights off the virus or doesn't.
In the cases of Brantly and Writebol, medical staff at Emory can only offer basic treatment -- making sure they are well-hydrated, for example -- to help them maintain the strength to beat Ebola.
“We depend on the body’s defenses to control the virus,” said Emory Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist, at a press conference on Friday. “We just have to keep the patient alive long enough in order for the body to control this infection.”
The current outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia has killed more than 700 so far, with hundreds more believed to be infected. The death rate in this outbreak is estimated to be 60 percent.
Brantly and Writebol were treating Ebola patients at a hospital in Liberia, according to Samaritan's Purse.
Brantly's brother, Kevin, who lives in Gwinnett County, told Channel 2 Action News Friday that his brother had been in Liberia since last fall.
"It takes a lot of worry and care about other people to put your own life at risk for people you don't know," Kevin Brantly said. "That’s what it takes to make this world a better place."
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC