2014 Texans Of The Year: The Ebola Warriors

Ebola reared its ugly head in the United States this year when the first ever confirmed case was reported in Dallas, Texas in September. No one knows the horrors of Ebola like Dr. Kent Brantly of Fort Worth, and nurses Amber Vinson of Dallas, and Nina Pham also from Fort Worth, and so the Dallas Morning News has named these three “Ebola Warriors” as their 2014 Texans of the Year.

Time magazine recently named their annual “Person of the Year” as “The Ebola Fighters,” who are the health care workers in Africa that risk their lives each day fighting this horrible virus. Dr. Brantly was also a featured worker in this edition. Read more on these hero’s as reported by the Inquisitr.

Ebola Stricken Dr. Kent Brantly In Liberia
Dr. Kent Brantly in Liberia

Dallas became America’s Ebola epicenter after the arrival in September of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who became the first person on U.S. soil to be diagnosed with the disease. Pham would become the second, Vinson the third. Duncan was the link between West Africa’s unprecedented epidemic, with a death toll now exceeding 7,500, and panic striking America’s health care system, most notably at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

They fought on the Ebola front lines, and felt the sorrow of loss as the virus reaped its ghastly toll on their patient. They reeled in disbelief when Ebola jumped their protective plastic-and-rubber shields and unleashed its ravages upon them. In the caregiver’s role, Brantly, Pham and Vinson struggled against a sense of helplessness while watching the virus consume patients faster than medical science could fend it off. Ebola was winning.

Nina Pham and her dog
Nina Pham and her dog, Bentley

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, they then became patients themselves, a different sense of helplessness surged forth as they watched Ebola do to them exactly what they’d seen it do to their patients. Death was stalking them. Their own fates now rested in the hands of medical colleagues, barely identifiable behind aseptic moon suits of plastic and rubber.

“One of the scariest parts was when my doctor came in and wanted to give an end-of-life discussion with me,” Pham recalled in an exclusive interview. “It really hit me hard. … I’m 26. This is not happening.”

They didn’t choose Ebola. It chose them. Vinson, Pham and Brantly immersed themselves wholeheartedly in the fight to save lives, even when it meant risking their own. Their impact was undeniable, given the national call to action that resulted when their nightmares unfolded on live television.

Months before Ebola hit Dallas, Brantly, 33, of Fort Worth, had a front row seat as he watched the epidemic develop while working in Monrovia, Liberia, for the medical missionary group Samaritan’s Purse. He and his family had been living there when the epidemic began in March. On June 11, the government sent the capital’s first Ebola patient there for treatment. From that point on, “every day was overwhelming,” Brantly stated to the Dallas Morning News.

On July 23, Brantly woke up feeling ill with a slight temperature. He followed protocols and stayed home but his fever continued to rise and his health deteriorated. He was transferred from Liberia to an Atlanta hospital which proved to save his life and he recovered from the deadly virus. He donated his blood to help other victims among them were nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson.

Pham was about to become the first primary nurse in America to treat the nation’s first domestic Ebola patient. She donned double layers of protective gloves, booties, an isolation gown and a shielded face mask, she said. “I don’t know if that was part of the actual CDC guidelines, but I doubled things up,” she said.

Duncan was able to stand and reach his bedside commode with little assistance during the first 36 hours, Pham said. After that, the Ebola volcano erupted. Pham toiled 14 and 15 hour days caring for Duncan, drenched in sweat each time she peeled off her protective layers. Before going home, Pham would brief the night-shift nurses on procedures and precautions. One evening, she recalled, Amber Vinson pulled her aside.

Amber Vinson
Amber Vinson

“I am so proud of you,” Vinson told her. “You’re in there. You’re the first nurse,” Vinson told her. “It’s history. You’re in the history books, girl.”

“I’m proud of you!” Pham responded. “Let’s do this.”

Vinson was inspired. This was where she wanted to be. While some staffers expressed reluctance, she specifically asked to be placed on the duty schedule for Duncan’s care. After treating him for several days, Duncan succumbed to the deadly virus on October 8.

Both nurses described the work as unbelievably stressful and high-pressure, aware that the world was watching.

“I feel like it was me and her, and the rest of the front-line team,” Pham recalled. “We just really came together, and we were such a family during that time. We had each other’s back. I get really emotional thinking about it.”

Pham continued to check her temperature each day as it stayed in a normal range, but just after midnight on Saturday, Oct. 11, her temperature jumped to 100.6. She notified the emergency room and drove herself to the emergency room as reported by The New York Times. After several tests, she tested positive and became the second confirmed Ebola case in the U.S. On October 14 and during her routine check, Vinson’s temperature registered at 100.3 and she also went to the hospital and became the third confirmed case.

Now quarantined, with the Ebola volcano erupting inside them, Pham and Vinson found themselves in the plastic-encased world they had only previously known from the caregiver’s perspective. Panic and exhaustion gripped Presbyterian’s staff. The hospital needed help since they were inexperienced in handling Ebola, so Pham was ordered to be flown to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Vinson was flown to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Since Brantly survived, his blood was used to make plasma with his antibodies and it was administered to the two nurses as a transfusion to give them a fighting chance. The transfusion apparently helped, along with intensive re-hydration and medications and the two nurses turned the corner and they survived.

Brantly thinks of going back to Africa every day but knows that his impact would be limited so he is focusing on public speaking and raising awareness about Ebola. Pham and Vinson still are recovering with aches and pains, shortness of breath and other minor complaints. Pham hasn’t decided what she’ll do next but wants to make sure Americans don’t forget that Ebola continues to rage in West Africa. Vinson, who just turned 30, wants to get back to work as soon as she’s ready.

“Nursing is my passion,” she said. “The fight isn’t over.”

The lives of Kent Brantly, Amber Vinson and Nina Pham will forever be intertwined as Ebola blood brother and sisters.

[Feature Image Courtesy of Dallas Morning News]

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