Nancy Writebol, the American medical missionary who was infected with the deadly Ebola virus while working in West Africa, said there were times she thought she wouldn’t survive, but pulled through because of her deep faith in God and the help of doctors.
“There were many times I thought, ‘I am not going to make it anymore,’ ” Writebol told reporters Wednesday during a televised news conference in Charlotte, N.C., at the headquarters of SIM USA, the Christian charity that sent her to Liberia.
Writebol made her first public comments about her ordeal after a third U.S. missionary was reported to have Ebola. Bruce Johnson, president of SIM, identified the person as Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, who lives in the Boston area. Sacra, an obstetrician who had previous experience in the country as a medical missionary, had gone to Liberia after Writebol and colleague Dr. Kent Brantly of the charity Samaritan’s Purse, were found to have Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with patients' blood and other bodily fluids.
Writebol and Brantly were evacuated from West Africa and treated in a special infectious disease unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Officials were planning a news conference later Wednesday to announce details on Sacre’s care.
At the news conference, Writebol said she is often asked what saved her from the disease, which has killed more than 1,500 people in the most recent outbreak in Africa. Was it the experimental drug she was given? The supportive care from doctors in Liberia and Atlanta? Or was it her abiding faith?
“My answer to that question is all of the above,” Writebol said.
The Writebols had left their North Carolina home last year for missionary work at a clinic in Liberia, where Nancy’s duties included disinfecting staff entering or leaving the Ebola treatment area. After three weeks at Emory, where she said she received amazing care, Writebol was released Aug. 19. She has been spending time with her husband at an undisclosed location.
“I can’t wait to put our arms around our children and grandchildren,” Writebol, 59, said.
Writebol said she was grateful to doctors in the United States and in Liberia for the care they had given her in treating the usually fatal disease, especially in the medically underserved regions of Africa. She and her husband, David, frequently reminded reporters that the disease remains a scourge in Africa and that steps needed to be taken there to halt the disease.
But just as important as the medical treatment, Writebol said, was her continuing faith in God. “This is not our story, it is God’s story. God is writing this,” she said.
Writebol described how she fell ill with what she thought was malaria and was treated for that disease in Liberia. As a precaution, she was also tested for Ebola. When the tests showed she had the disease, she said her heart sank.
Her husband came toward her after the diagnosis “to give me a hug,” Writebol said. “I said: ‘David, it’s going to be OK, it’s really going to be OK.’
“I knew what the outcome could be,” she continued, describing the dark days when she knew she had a deadly disease, “but there was no fear. Whether I lived or died, I thought it was OK.”
She said it was God that helped her through the trip to the United States. Writebol said she was very sick as she prepared to be flown by special airplane to Georgia.
“I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to the U.S.,” she said. “As we said goodbye, I wondered what the next hours would hold.”
“The Lord came near," Writebol said. “‘Am I enough? Am I enough?’” she said of God’s love and her own faith. “My response to the Lord, was, ‘Yes you are enough.’”
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