FORT WORTH, Texas - Kent Brantly always wanted to be a medical missionary, and he took the work seriously, spending months treating a steady stream of patients with Ebola in Liberia.
Now Brantly, a 2003 Abilene Christian University graduate and 2009 graduate of the Indiana University medical school, is himself a patient, fighting for his own survival in an isolation unit on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, after contracting the deadly disease.
His wife, Abilene-native Amber Carroll Brantly, and their two children, meanwhile, left Liberia to attend a wedding in the United States just days before Kent Brantly fell ill and quarantined himself.
They are currently staying with family in Abilene and, while not subject to quarantine, are monitoring their temperatures for an early sign of viral infection, a city of Abilene spokeswoman said.
Brantly says he is “terrified” of the disease progressing further, according to Dr. David Mcray, the director of maternal-child health at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where Brantly completed a four-year residency.
“I’m praying fervently that God will help me survive this disease,” Brantly said in an email Monday to Mcray. He also asked that prayers be extended for Nancy Writebol, an American co-worker who also has fallen ill.
Last October, Brantly began a two-year fellowship with Samaritan’s Purse, a North Carolina-based Christian aid group, to serve as a general practitioner, delivering babies and performing surgeries at a mission hospital in the Monrovia suburb of Paynseville.
When Ebola spread from neighboring Guinea into Liberia in March, Brantly and his wife, Amber, re-evaluated their commitment, but decided to stay in West Africa with their children, ages 3 and 5.
While the family is not offering public comment, wishing to remain private, the Reporter-News received an emailed statement from a representative of the family Monday.
“Kent is a brave, kind, servant-hearted man and a great role model,” the statement said. “Our family asks that everyone join us in fervent prayer for his full recovery. Our faith sustains us, and we are resting in the peace of God. Our family also asks that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time. For updates, visit www.samaritanspurse.org.”
Brantly “went into Ebola exhausted” from treating Ebola patients, Mcray, the Fort Worth doctor, said after speaking with him Monday. His prognosis is grave and efforts to evacuate him to Europe for treatment have been thwarted as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has closed border crossings.
There is no known cure for Ebola.
Still, colleagues and family members said Brantly, 33, knew of the risks associated with working in one of the world’s poorest countries during an epidemic and did not regret his choice.
“Kent prepared himself to be a lifetime medical missionary,” said his mother, Jan Brantly. “His heart is in Africa.”
Brantly directed the Liberian hospital’s Ebola clinic, wearing full-body protective gear in the Equatorial heat for more than three hours at a time to treat patients.
He undertook humanitarian work while studying medicine at Indiana University, working in impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods, according to a medical school spokeswoman.
Before contracting Ebola, Brantly and his family “really enjoyed Liberia.”
“They were very well-adjusted,” said Ken Kauffeldt, the country director for Samaritan’s Purse in Monrovia.
Liberia’s health ministry is investigating how Brantly contracted the virus.
“We’re trying to figure out what went wrong because he was always very careful,” said Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant health minister in Monrovia.
Associated Press writers Emily Schmall, Betsy Blaney and Ken Kusmer contributed to this report, along with Reporter-News writer Timothy Chipp.