Ebola patient Rick Sacra gets transfusions from survivor Kent Brantly

Debbie Sacra, left, the wife of Ebola patient Rick Sacra, turns toward the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Dr. Phil Smith and Dr. Angela Hewlett at a Sept. 11 news conference in Omaha.
(University of Nebraska Medical Center)

Dr. Rick Sacra, an American missionary who contracted Ebola in Africa, has received blood plasma transfusions from Dr. Kent Brantly, a fellow missionary who has recovered from the disease, doctors involved in Sacra’s treatment confirmed Thursday.

Sacra, 51, and Brantly, 33, each contracted the virus while caring for Ebola patients in Liberia. Brantly, along with missionary Nancy Writebol, was treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and discharged last month. Sacra, who was infected later, arrived Friday at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Sacra has received two blood plasma transfusions from Brantly, Dr. Phil Smith, director of the Nebraska hospital’s biocontainment unit, said Thursday at a news conference.

“We’re hoping to jump start his immunity,” Smith said.


On Friday, the World Health Organization endorsed the transfusion of blood plasma from people who have survived Ebola, an old-school remedy that is already prevalent in Africa, as a treatment for the disease.

The blood plasma of people who have recovered from Ebola contains antibodies that were successful in fighting off the virus. Those antibodies transfused into an infected person may help the recipient fight the disease as well.

There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.

Brantly and Writebol made full recoveries after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, but it is unknown whether the drug assisted in their recoveries. There are no more doses of ZMapp available.


Sacra is being treated with a different experimental drug, which his doctors have refused to name. He is also receiving “aggressive supportive care” that includes intravenous nutrition and electrolyte supplements, the biocontainment unit’s Dr. Angela Hewlett said at Thursday’s news conference.

Sacra’s relatives told the media Monday that he was able to eat breakfast for the first time since arriving in the United States. He is continuing to show progress in fighting the disease, his doctors said Thursday, and has been sharing notes he took about his symptoms before being brought back to the United States.

“It seems like his brain is waking up a little bit more every day,” his wife, Debbie Sacra, said at the news conference.

She also emphasized the couple’s hope that Sacra’s illness will bring attention to people in West Africa afflicted with the same virus.


The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the worst on record and has caused the most devastation in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. To date, the outbreak has sickened more than 4,200 people and killed more than 2,200 of them, including suspected and confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization. The United Nations has estimated that it will cost at least $600 million to stop the virus’ spread.

Sacra, an obstetrician from the Boston area, went to Liberia at the beginning of August because the Ebola outbreak was overwhelming the healthcare system there, meaning that even people who didn’t have Ebola could not get adequate treatment either, his wife said.

Before Sacra can be released, his doctors said, two blood tests 48 hours apart must both show no Ebola virus in his bloodstream.

On Tuesday, a fourth American aid worker who contracted Ebola in Africa arrived at Emory University Hospital for treatment. Citing confidentiality rules, the hospital has not identified that patient or described the person’s condition.


Times staff writers Monte Morin and Michael Muskal contributed to this report.

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