By Jesse Wood
Dr. Kent Brantly, a Samaritan’s Purse doctor who survived Ebola last year, and his wife, Amber, visited the nonprofit’s headquarters in Boone on Thursday afternoon to speak with reporters about their new book, Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic, and to speak with local pastors at a luncheon.
Brantly was diagnosed with the Ebola virus last summer while working as medical director for Samaritan’s Purse care center serving the Liberian capital of Monrovia. He contracted the virus at about the same time as Nancy Writebol, a missionary with Serving in Mission (SIM), who was part of a joint effort with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. Both survived.
After a note from Samaritan’s Purse President Frankling Graham, the first passage in the book states:
“’Kent, bud. We got your test result. And I’m really sorry to tell you that it is positive for Ebola.’
I had not expected to hear those words…”
On Thursday, Brantly remarked that he felt “strangely calm” after hearing the diagnosis, followed by weeks of fear and anxiety. He said he was particularly at peace because he felt he was serving God and helping people.
“If I died in service, it was OK. I was doing the right thing,” Brantly said.
Brantly recovered after receiving an experimental serum, receiving a unit of blood from a 14-year-old Liberian that had previously survived Ebola and spending nearly a month in isolation at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
“I thought I was going to die,” Brantly told reporters on Thursday before the luncheon.
Amber, who was sitting beside Brantly in a small conference room, added, “It was definitely unnerving … Our family history will always be before Ebola and since Ebola.”
Both Brantly (BA in biblical text) and his wife (BA in nursing) are graduates of Abilene Christian University in Texas. Brantly also received a medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine. He did his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Forth Worth Texas, where “homebase” currently is for the Brantlys, before moving to Liberia in October 2013.
“I should still be in Liberia,” Brantly said, noting that his two-year term there was supposed to end in a couple months.
When Brantly emerged from Emory University Hospital on Aug. 21 free of the virus, he said, “Today is a miraculous day.”
On Thursday, Brantly – in addressing a question regarding that statement – said he didn’t know when or where exactly the miracle that saved his life occurred.
Brantly said that he didn’t know if a “supernatural intervention” in his body reversed the illness. He said he didn’t know whether the miracle was the strange set of events that led to the availability of “this experimental medication for a rare disease grown in tobacco plants in a greenhouse in Kentucky and only used in animal trials and ended up on my bedside as I was about to die from that rare disease.”
The airplane that picked him up and brought him back to the states was built for something else about 10 years ago but never used. The plane ended up in storage until it was called to action last summer. Brantly was the first patient to ever be evacuated in that airplane. But before it picked him up, it had to turn around for mechanical problems – causing about a one-day delay. However if it wouldn’t have been for that delay, Brantly would have been over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean whenever the experimental serum was available and would have had no access to the drug as his conditioned deteriorated.
“I don’t know [exactly] where the miracle occurred. I don’t know when,” Brantly said after rattling off other links in the chain of events.
As for the book, Amber said that they hope it challenges others and those who are of the Christian faith to “ask themselves tough questions about how God works and how prayer works.”
Kent added that he hopes readers gain an “insight” into what it is like to live in a place like Liberia, where medical care is scarce and difficult to come by.
“We as Americans don’t recognize that we are in the minority and most people don’t have the luxuries and pleasantries of life that we take for granted every day,” Kent Brantly said.
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