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American doctor speaks out about his Ebola recovery

August 21, 2014 at 6:47 PM EDT
The 33-year-old American doctor Kent Brantley was infected with the Ebola virus while working in a hospital in Liberia, but has reportedly made a full recovery. Standing alongside the medical team that treated him in Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, Brantley recalled the month-long battle for his life. Judy Woodruff has the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, some good news in what has been a very troubling story.

An American doctor who contracted Ebola in West Africa was discharged from an Atlanta hospital today. He and the hospital staff spoke to reporters after his release.


JUDY WOODRUFF: A smiling Dr. Kent Brantly was greeted by applause inside Atlanta’s Emory University hospital, where doctors today announced the 33-year-old had made a full recovery after being infected with the Ebola virus while working in a hospital in Liberia.

DR. KENT BRANTLY: Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Standing alongside the medical team that treated him, Brantly recalled the first day of what would be a near-month-long battle for his life.

DR. KENT BRANTLY: On Wednesday, July 23, I woke up feeling under the weather, and then my life took an unexpected turn as I was diagnosed with Ebola virus disease.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On August 2, Dr. Brantly was admitted to Emory University Hospital after being flown out of Liberia.

DR. KENT BRANTLY: Thank you to Emory University Hospital, and especially to the medical staff in the isolation unit. You treated me with expertise, yet with such tenderness and compassion. For the last three weeks, you have been my friends and my family.

And so many of you ministered to me not only physically, but also spiritually, which has been an important part of my recovery. I will never forget you and all that you have done for me. And thank you to my family, my friends, my church family, and all who lifted me up in prayer, asking for my healing and recovery.

Please do not stop praying for the people of Liberia and West Africa, and for a quick end to this Ebola epidemic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: After his remarks, Brantly and his wife hugged each one of the physicians and nurses that cared for him.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, medical director of the hospital’s infectious disease unit, touched on the bond his team developed with Brantly.

DR. BRUCE RIBNER, Emory University Hospital: There was a very strong emotional, as well as health care interaction that occurred. If the hugging transmit the message that we don’t think he’s contagious, I think that would be accurate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Ribner also said that 59-year-old Nancy Writebol, who was also being treated at Emory for Ebola, had been discharged earlier this week. At her request, her departure wasn’t announced at that time.

DR. BRUCE RIBNER: The medical staff here at Emory is confident that the discharge from the hospital of both of these patients poses no public health threat. Ebola virus is a new infection on this continent, but our colleagues across the ocean have been dealing with it for 40 years now, and so there is strong epidemiologic evidence that, once an individual has resolved Ebola virus infection, they are immune to that strain, recognizing that there are five different strains of Ebola virus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both Brantly and Writebol received treatment with the experimental drug ZMapp while in Liberia, but the Emory team said the role it played in their treatment is unknown.

DR. BRUCE RIBNER: They are the very first individuals to ever receive this agent. There is no prior experience with it. And, frankly, we do not know whether it helped them, whether it made no difference, or even theoretically if it delayed their recovery.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ribner went on to say his staff would pass along guidelines to those doctors still fighting Ebola in West Africa.

DR. BRUCE RIBNER: We are in the process of working with a number of medical journals and other organs to disseminate the observations that we made in the care of these two patients.

The providers in Africa will be able to read the article we read — we write, but, in addition, we are planning to make some provider-specific information available to them. So, again, we are hopeful that what we have learned here will assist our colleagues in Africa in caring for these critically ill patients.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kent Brantly told reporters he will take some time off with his family before addressing the media again. But doctors will continue to monitor him and Nancy Writebol through follow-up visits.

Online, we take a look at the Ebola virus at the molecular level to explain what makes it so deadly. You can read that on our Science page.