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Missionary recounts Ebola fight as both doctor and patient

Dr. Kent Brantly contracted Ebola while treating patients during last year's epidemic in West Africa. He was airlifted from Liberia back to the U.S. and received an experimental drug and other treatment at Emory University Hospital. Brantly joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss his experience, faith and new book, "Called for Life.”

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    Next: the medical doctor who was airlifted from Liberia to the U.S. one year ago this month after he contracted Ebola while treating patients in West Africa.

    Kent Brantly and a medical missionary colleague, Nancy Writebol, who was also infected, were treated with the experimental drug ZMapp at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both eventually recovered.

    Now Dr. Brantly and his wife, Amber, have written a book about the experience. He recently sat down with Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studio.


    So, it's almost exactly a year ago, after you quarantined yourself. You have got all the symptoms. You have got the vomiting, the diarrhea, the bloodshot eyes, things that you have been seeing in patients and treating. And, for the most part, those patients have been dying. What's going through your head?

    DR. KENT BRANTLY, Author, "Called for Life": Before I received my diagnosis, the main symptoms I had were fever, fatigue, body aches and diarrhea.

    When the diarrhea started, that was more mounting evidence that this really is probably Ebola. But I held on to that hope that it was something else until we had the definitive test result.


    You were the first human to get ZMapp. Before that, I think it's been a dozen, maybe 18 monkeys had got it. What went through your mind in making that decision to say either yourself or your colleague at the time Nancy should take this?


    Nancy and I actually talked on the phone. I remember she called me and said, after we had the kind of informed consent discussion with the doctor that was in charge of our care, she said, "Kent, what are you going to do? Because I'll probably do whatever you do."

    And I said, "I think I would be willing to receive it."

    But it was — you know, I thought, otherwise, I'm probably going to otherwise, and this may or may not help, but at least I could be a guinea pig and let the world know whether there is any benefit to it or not.


    Once you get this special air ambulance that is arranged, the State Department, lots of people working to try to make this happen, it's a bit cloak and dagger. You're literally taken to the airport at night. There's — before this, there are countries that don't even want you flying over their airspace.


    It did seem like something from a movie.

    When I got out of that, what we called an ambulance — it was the back of a pickup truck — and was being helped on to the airplane, you know, I — part of me really thought, this is pretty cool. I'm being evacuated on like this top-secret jet. And I wanted to look around and look at the airplane, but it took every bit of effort I had just to put one foot in front of the other to get on to that airplane.


    Let's talk a little bit about your loved ones. While you're in this kind of medically necessary quarantine, your wife and your kids were almost in a socially necessary quarantine of sorts.


    They left Liberia three days before I got sick. And once my diagnosis was confirmed, they were put in a quarantine of sorts.

    They were monitored by the Health Department, had to check their temperature several times a day, had to have two people sign off on the temperatures every day. But there was a lot of fear surrounding that whole situation in the general public. And people weren't sure what to make of a patient with Ebola being brought back to the United States, and then the recognition that, oh, there other people who have been in that country who are now walking around in public.

    And I think that created a lot of fear because of the unknown.


    You also mentioned that there were certain cultural hurdles and obstacles, that some of that fear was also happening in West Africa in a totally different way.


    I think we saw that fear of Ebola expressed in different ways in West Africa and here.

    Here, everybody was afraid that, we're all going to get Ebola, we're all going to die. In West Africa, the fear kind of presented itself as denial that Ebola was even real or that a loved one who had all the symptoms of Ebola, but it must be something else.


    What role do you think your faith played in all this?


    That's a hard question for me to answer, because I try not to compartmentalize my life into, this is my faith life, this is my work life, this is my family life.

    My faith is an integral part of who I am. It's part of the lens through which I view everything in life. So, I can't separate this experience from my faith.


    Some people are going to say, look, the difference might not be his faith. It's that he's an American and he got literally the best care on the planet for this, vs. all the people who don't get that, not just in Liberia, but anywhere else.


    I wouldn't — I wouldn't disagree with that statement.

    I don't think there is anything special about my faith that saved my life. If anything, my faith is what put me in a position where I got Ebola. And I'm really thankful to the United States government, to the government of Liberia, to Emory University Hospital, to Phoenix Air, to the State Department, all of the people that played a role in providing me with the treatment I received.

    I don't say that, oh, it was my faith that saved me, not those people. I believe God used those people to save my life, not because of my great faith. It just is. And so I give God the credit for it. But I thank all of those people, and I — I love them.


    Would you do this again?


    I would. I would.

    That is what Amber and I feel like. That's the kind of life God has called us to. And in some ways, we're really eager to get back to that, to get out of a life where we're doing book tours and stuff and get back to the life of service that we feel called to.


    All right, Dr. Kent Brantly.

    The book is called "Called for Life."

    Thanks so much for joining us.


    Thank you, Hari.

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