INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (July 29, 2015) - He survived Ebola after treating patients in Liberia. Now, Indianapolis native Dr. Kent Brantly is sharing his story of going back to the country where he nearly died.
Brantly, his wife Amber, and their two young children traveled back to Liberia last month. He said it was an important decision to come face to face in the place he left so quickly after being diagnosed with Ebola.
“It was important to us to go back and really, part of it had to do with Ebola, in seeking a little bit of closure to that traumatic experience that we went through," he said.
Brantly and his family moved to Liberia to work with the Samaritan's Purse organization. They lived there for many years and it's the place where his children were raised.
"That was our home. We had a lot of really good memories there. We lived in close knit community. We had dear, dear friends there and so we had lots of reasons that we wanted to go back," Brantly said.
While there, he was honored by Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who recognized him for the risk he took under difficult circumstances to serve the country during the Ebola outbreak.
When he learned on May 9 that Liberia was Ebola free, Brantly said he and his family rejoiced, but they quickly learned Ebola was still there.
“Ebola is not gone from Liberia. At the end of June, right after we returned, there was a new case diagnosed in Liberia," he said.
Several cases of Ebola were reported in June and some did not survive. Even worse, Brantly said Liberia's neighboring countries are in bad shape when it comes to the disease.
“Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to have 20-30 new cases of Ebola each week and they’ve never reached zero. They’ve never been declared Ebola free," Brantly said.
He said vaccines and research, while helpful, may not be effective and fast enough to really stop the outbreak. He said West Africa needs more "boots on the ground," doctors and nurses who are able and willing to treat and educate.
“We’ve got to have people who are willing to go treat patients with Ebola. We have to have more importantly, people who have the cultural know-how to navigate society there and help stop the transmission of disease," he said. Brantly added, “the whole region is being destabilized by this constant hidden threat that you can’t rebuild a resilient health system in a community where there is a hidden danger that is picking off your health care workers one at a time.”
He said while the devastation and death may be low right now, he fears the disease will never really go away.
“It’s in the bats of West Africa somewhere and at any time, it could raise it’s ugly head again. Life there will never be quite the same," he said.
While he's become the face of Ebola survival, Brantly said the real heroes are the West Africans who have fought and sometimes died in the struggle to end the disease.
“In some ways, I feel like I have done nothing for their country. I went there to serve people and I ended up getting sick and becoming part of the disaster," Brantly said.
When asked if he would go back to Liberia, Brantly responded saying, "we really want to return to that kind of work and that kind of life. That was a calling that Amber and I have shared for a decade or more and we were just getting started when Ebola hit," he added, “there are days I want to drop it all and go back to being a doctor there, but I’ve been given an opportunity be an advocate and be a voice for people.”