Ebola death doctor hailed as hero

Published: Sunday 30th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Dr Martin Salia did not become a doctor to get rich, and even though he was a permanent US resident, he chose to work in his native Sierra Leone as the need for surgeons there was so great.

Although his medical colleagues were worried when he returned there to treat Ebola patients, they said the decision was consistent with his character.

The 44-year-old surgeon was remembered yesterday at his funeral Mass as a tireless, selfless and heroic advocate for medical care for the less fortunate.

Dr Salia died of Ebola on November 17 after being flown to a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, in the advanced stages of the deadly virus.

He became the second person to die in the US after contracting Ebola in West Africa, where it has killed nearly 7,000 people.

Ron Klain, the White House Ebola response co-ordinator, read a personal note of condolence from President Barack Obama to Dr Salia’s family.

“The greatest heroes are people who choose to face danger, who voluntarily put themselves at risk to help others,” Mr Klain said. “Martin Salia was such a man.”

The 90-minute Mass at the home parish of the Salia family in Landover Hills, Maryland drew a crowd that swelled to the hundreds.

Relatives, friends, colleagues and dignitaries from both the US and Sierra Leone were in attendance, along with Sierra Leonean immigrants from around the US, some of whom said they did not know Dr Salia personally.

Dr Salia’s wife, Isatu, wept as she carried a small black box containing her husband’s cremated remains into the church, flanked by the couple’s sons, 20-year-old Maada and 14-year-old Hinwaii.

Bockari Stevens, the Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the US, called Dr Salia a national hero who abandoned “the luxuries of the United States” to aid his homeland.

“It is a loss not only to your family. It is a loss to our country,” he said.

Sierra Leone is now bearing the brunt of the eight-month-old outbreak.

In the other hard-hit countries, Liberia and Guinea, the World Health Organisation says infection rates are stabilising or declining, but in Sierra Leone, they are soaring.

The country has been reporting around 400 to 500 new Ebola cases each week for several weeks. Those cases are concentrated in the capital, Freetown, its surrounding areas and the northern Port Loko district.

Dr Salia was born and raised in Kenema, Sierra Leone, and received his medical training in Freetown. He later served as a surgical resident in Cameroon and also worked in Kenya and the US.

His dream had been to open his own hospital in Sierra Leone, colleagues said.

Dr Salia did not receive aggressive treatment for Ebola until nearly two weeks after he first started showing symptoms.

His formal diagnosis was delayed, and it took several days for him to be flown back to the US. Those delays, doctors said, probably made it impossible for anyone to save his life.

Published: Sunday 30th November 2014 by The News Editor

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