Liberian Woman Saves Three from Ebola, Enrolls at Emory

When the father of Fatu Kekula, a 22-year-old Liberian nursing student, contracted the Ebola virus in August, she rushed him to the hospital. But every hospital she could find refused to accept him, so she brought him home, where he infected three other family members, according to a CNN article.

Kekula spent two grueling weeks treating her father, mother, sister and cousin and managed to save three of them.

Now, she’s ready to finish her degree at Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

Kekula has enrolled at Emory for the spring semester and will complete her Associate Arts in Nursing degree by the end of the fall 2015 semester. She previously studied at Cuttington University in Suakoko, Liberia, which shut down during the epidemic. (Kekula has already completed three years at Cuttington. An associate degree requires four years of schooling in Liberia, unlike in the U.S., according to the Nursing School.)

The Nursing School’s Associate Dean for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs David Smith called Kekula’s enrollment “a wonderful opportunity” for both the Nursing School and Kekula herself.

“What better place than Emory to train a nurse who will return to the front lines of the fight against Ebola?” Smith wrote in a statement. “And what a great opportunity for our current students to be able to study alongside someone who has faced a crisis that threatened her country, her own family and herself? It’s a perfect match.”

The ‘trash bag method’

Back in her home country in late July, according to CNN, Kekula took her father, 52-year-old Moses, to a hospital near her home city of Kakata after his blood pressure spiked. There, he was given the bed of a just-deceased Ebola patient and quickly contracted the virus, as did many hospital staff.

Three hospitals then turned her father away after Kekula drove him to the capitol, Monrovia. Another hospital in Kakata admitted him but diagnosed him with Typhoid fever and did little to help combat the virus he had actually contracted, according to the article.

Kekula was then forced to bring her father home, where he infected her mother, 57-year-old Victoria; her sister, Vivian, 28; and her cousin who lived with Kekula and her immediate family, 14-year-old Alfred Winnie.

Unable to get her hands on the goggles and protective suits recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kekula used a “trash bag method” to keep herself from coming in contact with any of her relatives’ infectious bodily fluids, according to CNN. She tied trash bags over her hands and feet and donned a raincoat and multiple pairs of gloves, and later taught this technique to other West Africans without access to overcrowded hospitals.

Three members of the family – her father, mother and sister – survived, while her cousin died of the virus, which kills an average of 50 percent of those infected, according to a World Health Organization fact sheet.

A search for the right school

Following his recovery, Kekula’s father began searching for scholarships for his daughter, determined to help her finish her nursing degree, according to CNN.

IAMProjects, a nonprofit focused on financially supporting African scholars of all academic levels, contacted the family after hearing Kekula’s story from a September CNN article by Elizabeth Cohen. IAMProjects soon got in touch with Cohen, who connected the nonprofit with the Kekula family, according to IAMProjects Founder Olawunmi Oduyebo.

Helping Kekula to apply and transfer her credits to Emory “was a challenge,” Oduyebo wrote in an email to the Wheel. “As you can imagine, things are very different in Liberia, specifically the school systems and their deadlines.”

She added that “the Ebola epidemic did not make things any easier.”

The nonprofit, however, was able to coordinate with Cuttington University to attain the documents needed for Kekula’s transfer, according to Oduyebo. Additionally, Oduyebo added, the majority of iAMProjects’ board members are Africans and had a solid understanding of the Liberian university’s system.

Through donations from individuals who gave as little as $1 and nonprofits who gave up to $10,000, IAMProjects raised its target amount of $40,000 for Kekula’s Emory tuition, travel and living expenses by Jan. 5. Most of the donations came from individuals, Oduyebo wrote.

IAMProjects speaks to the Kekula family at least twice a week, according to Oduyebo.

“Fatu and her family are lovely people,” Oduyebo wrote. “She is a very intelligent and determined young lady — she comes from a tight knit family who love each other dearly.”

As for Kekula’s post-graduation plans, Oduyebo wrote that the nursing student “has a lot of things she would like to accomplish and establish after graduation … but she is taking it all one step at a time.”

Kekula was not available for comment by press time.

– By Lydia O’Neal, Assistant News Editor

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