Amber Vinson gave a round of interviews Thursday morning, days after being released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, describing the physical toll that Ebola has had on her, and the emotional toll of critics who questioned her decision to fly to Ohio before she fell ill.
Vinson defended the decision, saying she had no symptoms at the time, which meant she could not transmit the disease.
“I would not take Ebola to my family and my best girlfriends,” Vinson told CNN’s Don Lemon. “I would not endanger families across the nation, potentially exposing them to anything.”
Smiling and appearing healthy, Vinson said she continues to feel tired and has to catch her breath after walking even short distances.
Battling the disease, she said, was draining. “You’ve got to force yourself to get up, and forcing yourself takes a lot out of you too,” she said. “You’re fighting for your life.” But, she added, her faith remained strong, and she “didn’t feel like it was my time yet.”
Vinson traveled to Cleveland on Oct. 10, two days after Thomas Eric Duncan, her patient, died of the disease at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. That same day, fellow nurse Nina Pham reported having a fever and was put into isolation.
Vinson says she was never told she couldn’t travel, and that she spoke to her managers more than once that week to confirm that she was allowed to fly. The CDC has said it gave Vinson approval to fly.
She flew back to Dallas with CDC approval on Oct. 13, after reporting a slight fever of 99.5. Vinson was isolated with a fever the next morning, and diagnosed with Ebola on Oct. 15. She was transferred to Emory University Hospital, where she was treated. She was released on Oct. 28.
Speaking to Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, Vinson said despite media reports, she was not feeling “weird” before she boarded her flight from Ohio to Dallas.
“I’m a nurse. I have medical terms to quantify how I was feeling. I felt fine, I felt normal,” Vinson said. But, after hearing that day that her colleague Nina Pham had contracted the disease, Vinson said she was afraid.
“I was floored … I did everything I was instructed to do every time, and I felt like if Nina can get it, any one of us could have gotten it,” Vinson said in the interview.
Before boarding the plane, Vinson says she called her contact at the local health department. “I did ask them, well, is there anything you guys can do to send for me, do I need to leave earlier, you know, because I was worried.”
Vinson says she was hurt when questions were later raised about her decision to fly.
“It made me feel terrible because that’s not me. I’m not careless, I’m not reckless. I’m an ICU nurse,” Vinson told Lauer. “I embrace protocol and guidelines and structure, because in my day-to-day nursing, it is a matter of life and death.”
Texas Health Presbyterian faced sharp criticism of its protocol after Vinson and Pham contracted the disease after caring for Duncan. Vinson says she “did not get much training” in Ebola protocols and protective equipment, and that the first time she had ever donned personal protective equipment was when she was going in to treat Duncan.
“We didn’t have excessive training where we could...put on and take off the protective equipment until we got a level of being comfortable with it,” Vinson told Today.
Asked whether she would put herself in such a situation and treat another Ebola patient, Vinson didn’t hesitate: “Absolutely,” she told Lauer. “Nursing is what I do.”
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