Josephine: An Ebola Survivor Story

She is Josephine. And her story is one of survival and heartbreaking loss in the time of Ebola.

This video premiered at the Compassion Gala 2015 in Kansas City on May 9, 2015 – a very important date in the fight against the Ebola virus – as this date Liberia was declared Ebola-free.

Sadly, this is not the case any more, as a handful of EVD case have brought Ebola back into Liberia.  Learn more and find out what’s next for Heart to Heart International in Liberia.

 

 

Suspect Ebola Case Tests Heart to Heart ETU Staff

The call came over the radio.  A new mother was showing signs of EVD – Ebola Virus Disease – and was now considered a “suspect case”.  She had just given birth 5 days prior in the large hospital next door to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Tappita, Liberia that Heart to Heart International (HHI) is operating.  This young mother had a fever, she was weak, lethargic.  And so the voice on the radio said the ambulance crew was on the way to retrieve her and the newborn baby, and deliver them to the ETU.

Suspect_Case  4

In this tropical country, so close to the equator, an illness could be one of many things – dengue fever, yellow fever, lassa fever, malaria, among others.  But in this time of Ebola, no chances are taken.  So the hospital staff alerted the ETU staff.  And the ambulance crew that had been training for several days in a row on procedures and building teamwork, responded.  This was no training drill.  This was real.

Fortunately, the Ebola epidemic in Liberia has dropped significantly through a combination of a public awareness and education campaign by the Liberian government, the response of the US military, USAID, NGOs like HHI, International Medical Corps and others, and by the Liberian people themselves, as they embrace the changes to their culture in order to kick Ebola out of Liberia.  But still… the spectre of Ebola lurks.

Suspect_Case  1

Outside the back entrance to the hospital, the ambulance crew began to don their PPE – Personal Protective Equipment.  These are the ‘space suits’ you see so many healthcare workers wearing – goggles, a body suit, triple gloves, mask.  Hotter than blazes inside it under the broiling African sun.  Because this was the real deal, as they pulled on the protective gear a few members of the crew began to sing a little Bob Marley tune – “don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing gonna be alright.”  I sang along as we all could feel the “what if” hanging in the humid air.

Suspect_Case  3

Having one patient is one thing.  Having two, and one is a baby, is something more.  The newborn would have to go with the mother.  It took a little more coordination and thinking through the process, as you don’t move quickly or rashly when in PPE for fear of possible exposure.  But in the end, the training the crew has been doing paid off – the woman was loaded by stretcher onto the ambulance and the swaddled newborn was handed to a PPE-clad nurse to carry to the ETU.

Suspect_Case  5

Suspect_Case  8

At the ETU, the donning tent was busy with staff dressing in PPE to take their positions as the mother and child were brought in through the patient gate of the ETU and directly into the Suspect Tent, where patients wait for test results before leaving or going to the Confirmed Tent.  Behind them trailed a sprayer, dousing the ground where they had walked carrying the patient, turning the path dark and wet with chlorine.

Suspect_Case  9

A nurse drew a blood sample from both mother and child which was then hand-carried a couple of hundred yards to the US Army lab set up inside a wing of the hospital and placed inside a box outside the door.  Then, US Army Captain Jerod Brammer wearing his own PPE suit came to collect, spraying the outside of the box with chlorine before bringing the box inside to test the contents.

Suspect_Case  10

Suspect_Case  12

The woman and child’s tests came back negative.  No EVD.  No Ebola.  And the woman and baby were taken back to the hospital, a better place for both than the sweltering suspect tent.  But this story doesn’t have a happy ending.  The woman died a day later.  Doctors shared that another medical condition likely caused her death.  The news tempered the joy of the job well done by the ETU staff and the negative test results.

Now our psychosocial team plans to help take the baby to the mother’s village. To family.  But also to a world that was already difficult and hard for babies, even before Ebola came to Liberia.

UPDATE 12Feb15: The worst news.  A few days after the mother died, her baby passed away too.  According to our Chief Medical Officer, the cause of the newborn’s death was not determined.

 

 

 

Heart to Heart’s Ebola Treatment Unit Opens

While members of our Ebola Response Team have been treating Ebola patients and working in facilities across Liberia for many weeks, Heart to Heart’s own Ebola Treatment Unit has been coming together.
The 50-bed unit has been under construction in the town of Tappita.  And now, just about 90 days from when Heart to Heart declared it would go to Liberia to fight Ebola – the ETU is up and running.

The Ebola Treatment Unit is in Tappita, a town about an 8 hour drive from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia, in Nimba County.  The unit was built here as the town serves as a crossroads in this remote corner of Liberia. HHI took on the responsibility of running an ETU there as part of the coordinated international response to combat the spread of Ebola.  This is just one of several ETUs that are already in operation, or will soon be, across Liberia. The goal was to rapidly expand the capacity to combat the virus.  While the epidemic is still raging in West Africa, the efforts of our team and the greater response is having a positive impact in Liberia.

suspect ward

The ‘suspect’ ward, where patients will await test results to determine whether they have contracted Ebola or another illness.

 

The construction of this Ebola Treatment Unit was managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the 36th Engineering Brigade based in Ft. Hood, Texas. The 50-bed ETU is a large compound, akin to a mobile hospital, with areas for patient triage and large tents for suspect cases and for patient treatment.  It also has ‘back’ areas for staff and for the supplies needed to operate the unit and to treat people with Ebola.  The facility also generates it’s own power thanks to two large diesel generators that allow the ETU to operate 24/7.  

ETU wide

storeroom

Members of our Ebola Response Team take some downtime in the ETU’s supply area.

 

Major funding for the ETU in Tappita comes from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), as well as from generous donations from individuals who continue to help support HHI’s overall operations in Liberia to combat Ebola.

Our team members remain hard at work.  The Ebola Treatment Unit is open.  Progress is being made in the fight against Ebola.  Please continue to support this critical effort.

Donate Now & Help stop Ebola

suspect ward racks

 

US Senator Visits HHI’s Ebola Treatment Center

U.S. Senator Chris Coons is the first member of Congress to travel to Liberia since the start of the Ebola outbreak.  During his four day trip, he visited with deployed American troops, met with Liberian political leaders and explored Heart to Heart International’s new Ebola Treatment Unit in the town of Tappita.

Senator Coons tours ETU

HHI’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega (center, in blue) escorts Senator Coons and Ambassador Deborah Malec, along with Liberian health and government officials, on a tour of the Tappita ETU.

 

Senator Coons of Delaware currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.  He said his trip to Liberia was partly to remind Americans that the Ebola epidemic is far from over, to make a holiday visit with the troops and to provide some oversight of the funds committed to fighting Ebola.

Coons: “There are more than 2,000 U.S. troops currently serving on the front lines of our fight against Ebola, building hospitals and field clinics, but no Member of Congress has visited them yet. I think it’s important to show them our support, especially during the holiday season while they’re away from their loved ones. Congress also just approved more than $2.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and to ensure the virus does not overrun the region again. It’s Congress’ job to perform responsible oversight of that investment.”

2014_12_21_SenatorVisit-5 resize

Accompanying the senator on the tour of HHI’s Ebola Treatment Unit was US Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac and Major General Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st Airborne and overall commander of US troops in Liberia.  Maj. Gen. Volesky had been to the Tappita site previously, as construction for the ETU was managed by the 36th Engineer Brigade, from Fort Hood, Texas.

2014_12_21_SenatorVisit-3 resize

As the Huffington Post reported, Coons said he took plenty of precautions to avoid contracting the disease. “Every place I’ve gone I’m washing my hands with chlorine. Instead of handshakes we’re doing the ‘elboa,'” he said, referring to bumping elbows.  Though the trip was considered a ‘low-risk’ visit the senator will follow protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control, his health will be monitored and his temperature taken every day for three weeks as a precaution.

Coons also told the Washington Post he had seen first-hand how international groups, like Heart to Heart International, along with local Liberian efforts had changed the trajectory of the epidemic in the country.

 

 

 

 

VIDEO: Working Together to Fight Ebola

A new video gives a glimpse into the early days of Heart to Heart International’s Operation Ebola in Liberia and showcases the importance of partnership to combat the Ebola epidemic.

For many weeks, Heart to Heart International CEO Jim Mitchum has been in Liberia overseeing the building of the organizational infrastructure needed to support the opening of an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU).   Along with Country Director Julie Hefner and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rene Vega, our team in Liberia has been putting all the pieces into place, hiring staff, and coordinating with multiple aid agencies as part of the global response to the epidemic.

Watch the video to learn the reasons why HHI has taken on the responsibility of running an ETU.  Hear from our new Liberian staff members about their desire to bring healthcare to their people and why it’s so important that HHI has come to help.  And learn how we’re working in partnership with other NGOs, like the International Medical Corps, to tackle this continuing humanitarian crisis.

 

Video by: Blake Nelson