Journalist who won ‘war’ with Ebola

Published: Sunday 26th October 2014 by The News Editor

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An American journalist who survived Ebola has told of his fight for life, saying his body was “at war” with the deadly virus.

Speaking from his home in Rhode Island, New York, Ashoka Mukpo, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia, told of his fear when medical staff appeared at his bedside in the heavy-duty protective suits needed to prevent the spread of the infection.

“The only thing you can see is their eyes. And they’re dripping with chlorine,” Mr Mukpo, 33, said. “You just realise what a bad situation you’re in when your care-givers have to come in with such an incredible amount of protection.”

Video journalist Mr Mukpo contracted the virus after working for a month as a freelance cameraman for NBC and other media outlets.

He recounted the harrowing experiences he endured first with his diagnosis, then his treatment, and at last his recovery, two days after the latest Ebola case in the United States – New York City doctor Craig Spencer, who had worked in Guinea.

Mr Mukpo recalled taking his temperature, seeing it read 101.3F (38.5C), and feeling “pure fear”. Being diagnosed with Ebola, he said, forced him to confront the possibility of his own death and made him understand the terror and isolation so many west Africans are going through.

He said he felt as if his body was “at war” with the virus. He was in pain and weak and had a fever that went as high as 104F (40C). It was hard to walk and eat, and he lost 15lbs in a week.

Mr Mukpo said he was not sure how he contracted Ebola because he was careful while filming.

He was flown to the Nebraska Medical Centre in Omaha on October 6, where he was isolated in a bio-containment unit, given constant fluids and an experimental Ebola drug.

He is only one of a handful of people who have been treated for Ebola in the United States. One patient, Thomas Duncan, died after travelling from Liberia to Dallas, Texas, while other health care workers who have been infected have, like Mr Mukpo, recovered.

Mr Mukpo said it was difficult not to hold the hand of a loved one when he was so sick, but he added he was not sure how much direct contact he would have wanted.

“I needed to go into my body and find a place of strength, and find a place of calm,” he said. H e had no other choice but to find that strength, he said, because there is little room for fear.

“I’m going to make it, I’m not going to give in to fear,” he said he told himself. “I’m not going to give in to depression, embarrassment, I’m just going to live.”

Receiving a blood transfusion from Ebola survivor Dr Kent Brantly, who was treated in Atlanta, Georgia, was a turning point. The next day, Mr Mukpo’s eyesight was clearer, his headache and fever had lessened, and his body felt more under his control.

He was released from the hospital on Wednesday and flew back to Rhode Island.

Mr Mukpo said he felt compelled to go to Liberia because he had previously spent about two years there as a human rights advocate.

“I saw these awful things happening to this country that I had a connection to,” he said. “There was still some confusion about what the international response could be. I felt like, ‘OK, if I shoot film, I write, I’m going to help be part of the solution to this’. And I felt like that was worth the risk.”

As for returning to Liberia, Mr Mukpo said he would consider it in the future, under the right circumstances, but for now, he was enjoying being somewhere safe and spending time with his family.

He said he was getting stronger every day and felt grateful, blessed and lucky to be home.

But he said, he was acutely aware of the fact that most people battling the disease did not have a team of doctors.

“I would aspire that people, even in our moment of fear about Ebola in America, would consistently redirect their attention to what’s going on in west Africa,” he said.

“These are good people who are getting sick, these are real people who are getting sick, and they deserve the benefit of everything we can do to help them solve this crisis.”

Many west Africans who survive Ebola lose a family member, or their entire family, to the disease, Mr Mukpo said, and said his heart went out to them.

“This thing takes a piece from you,” he said. “It can be very small, or it can be very big.”

Published: Sunday 26th October 2014 by The News Editor

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