Dr. Martin Salia, who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone and was being treated at a Nebraska hospital, has died, hospital officials confirmed Monday.
“It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share this news,” Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit at Omaha’s Nebraska Medical Center, said in a statement. “Dr. Salia was extremely critical when he arrived here, and unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to save him.”
When Salia arrived at the hospital Saturday, his kidneys were not functioning and it was “extremely hard” for him to breathe, said Dr. Daniel Johnson, division chief for critical care at Nebraska Medical Center, who teared up as he spoke to reporters. Salia was unresponsive and within a few hours, doctors had put him on continuous dialysis and a ventilator to keep him breathing, he said.
“We weren’t able to get him through this,” Johnson said. “We really, really gave it everything we could, all modern medical therapies were provided. We wish there could have been a different outcome.”
Doctors said they also administered a convalescent plasma serum from a previously recovered Ebola patient, as well as the experimental anti-Ebola drug ZMapp, both of which have been used to treat Ebola patients in the United States recently.
Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the university’s vice chancellor for clinical research, said San Diego-based Mapp Pharmaceuticals reached out to the hospital and said it had some ZMapp available. The company had previously said no more doses of the medicine were available, after it was used to treat several Ebola patients, including Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.
A review board approved the use of the medication for Salia, and once his family agreed to the treatment, a course was shipped to Nebraska in time for Salia’s arrival. Salia received both treatments Saturday evening, shortly after he arrived from Sierra Leone, hospital officials said.
After that, officials said, Salia’s blood pressure plummeted and he eventually went into cardiac arrest.
Salia was a member of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and was working as a surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, treating Ebola patients as the disease spread in West Africa. He was a citizen of Sierra Leone and has family in the U.S., according to a church spokesman.
Hospital officials said an autopsy will not be performed on Salia’s body, because it’s considered too dangerous, and that his body will be cremated.
The doctor was the 10th patient in the U.S. to receive treatment for Ebola, and the second to die of the disease on American soil. The Nebraska Medical Center contains a specialized biocontainment unit and had successfully treated two other patients with Ebola.
Salia’s wife, Isatu Salia, an American citizen who lives in Maryland, said in the statement that she was “very grateful” for the hospital’s efforts.
She had told the official news service of the Methodist Church that she was paying $200,000 to have her husband flown to the U.S. for care, and that she was trying to raise more to travel to Nebraska with the couple’s two sons, who are 12 and 20 years old.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday offered condolences on behalf of the Obama administration.
“A general surgeon, Dr. Salia dedicated his life to saving others. He viewed this vocation as his calling, telling fellow United Methodist Church members that he pursued medicine not because he wanted to, but because he firmly believed it was God’s will for him,” Earnest said in a statement.
He added, “Dr. Salia’s passing is another reminder of the human toll of this disease and of the continued imperative to tackle this epidemic on the frontlines.”
Johnson said that despite Salia’s death, he does not feel defeated. “I know we gave him every possible chance to survive,” Johnson said. “We are going to analyze this, we’re going to learn from it, we’re going to figure out how we can do better with every single case.”
Staff writers Kurtis Lee and Matt Pearce contributed to this report.
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