Friday marked five years since the first Ebola virus patients arrived for treatment on Emory’s campus. A celebration of the anniversary at Emory University Hospital (EUH) included speakers from Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, the group that treated the patients, and two of the four Ebola patients who received care in 2014.

Kent Brantly, a family physician for Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, was the first patient treated in the United States at EUH after contracting the virus while treating patients during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Susan Writebol, a clinical nurse associate who also contracted the disease while working at the outbreak, arrived for treatment two days after Brantly. The two spoke about their time at Emory, praising the doctors and discussing the care they received.

“I arrived here at Emory University Hospital five years ago almost to this hour, and I was really sick,” Brantley said. “I remember it was really hard to climb down out of that ambulance and to walk up the stairs.”

Brantly recounted the moments as he watched Writebol arrive. The two shared adjacent rooms in the unit and, according to Brantly, maintained a close relationship.

“I watched as they wheeled Nancy into her room and to know … that she was going to get the same compassionate care that I had been receiving for those three days and to know that there was a chance that we both might survive this was a really big blessing,” Brantly said.

While in Liberia the two received the experimental treatment Zmapp. The treatment was continued at EUH, along with supportive care that was key to their recovery. Brantly and Writebol were released from EUH a little over two weeks after their arrival. 

Both Brantly and Writebol have continued to devote their time to treating patients with infectious diseases. Brantly said his family will soon move to Zambia to continue humanitarian work.

Writebol returned to Liberia in 2015 as a trauma healing counselor to work with Ebola survivors. In September she will travel to Congo to help combat the current outbreak. 

Brantly called for more awareness surrounding the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We need the U.S. government and international community to step up in a bigger way … to come to the assistance of the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to help bring an end to that outbreak before more lives are lost,” Brantly said. 

Colleen Kraft, associate medical director of Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, reflected on the learning experience in 2014 while also bringing attention to the current outbreak.

“We may have licensed therapeutics and a licensed vaccine by the end of this outbreak,” Kraft said. “Five years ago when we cared for Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol … we did not have anything that was beyond a phase of a preclinical trial.”

Bruce Ribner, medical director of Emory’s Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, underscored the medical and technological developments since 2014.

“Emory’s experience with treating four patients with Ebola virus disease has allowed us to make critical advancements in infectious disease with preparedness and patient care,” Ribner said. 

After the successful treatment of the four Ebola patients, Emory received a $24 million federal contract, along with the Nebraska Medical Center and Bellevue Hospitals, to establish the National Ebola Training and Education Center. Additionally, immunologists at the Emory Vaccine Center have led studies on Ebola antibodies, with hopes to design antiviral therapies and more precise vaccines.

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