Nina Pham, now free of the Ebola virus, returned to Fort Worth shortly before midnight Friday.
Pham did not comment about her fight against Ebola after her arrival at Meacham Airport, but she did accept a pair of scrubs that were signed by her colleagues at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas accompanied by her smiling father, Peter, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
She was released from the hospital Friday morning and later met with President Barack Obama, giving him a hug. Pham was flown to Maryland on Oct. 16 for treatment after being isolated in a treatment unit at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today,” Pham said at a news conference at the National Institutes of Health hospital in Bethesda, Md.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who was on the team that treated Pham, said the 26-year-old nurse, whom he described as “extraordinarily courageous,” is completely free of the virus, based on five negative blood tests.
“She has no virus in her. She feels well and looks extraordinarily well,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Pham, who grew up in Fort Worth, said she relied heavily on her faith in God and her medical team, including co-workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where she contracted the disease while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who died Oct. 8.
She was treated at Presbyterian before being transferred to a biocontainment unit at the NIH Clinical Center.
“I am so incredibly thankful for everyone [involved] in my care,” Pham said.
She also thanked Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, who donated plasma, for his “selfless” act.
“I believe in the power of prayer because I know people around the world have been praying for me,” Pham said.
She said the ordeal has “been very challenging for me and my family” and asked for privacy moving forward.
Neighbors in the vibrant Dallas community where Pham lives are hoping she returns to their quiet tree-lined block.
Pham lives in an older two-story apartment building on a quiet leafy street in a Dallas neighborhood close to restaurants and shopping. Pham is known in the neighborhood mostly because of her dog, Bentley, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel who has also been in the news because he has been quarantined and has so far tested negative for Ebola. Neighbors said Pham — sometimes dressed in her scrubs — walks the little dog daily.
Steven Josephson, 66, has lived above Pham in Dallas for about two years. “I hope she comes back,” he said.
Tom Ha, a Haltom City insurance agent and friend of the family, said Friday that instead of moving back to Dallas, Pham might spend more time in Fort Worth.
“I think it might be the case that she wants to relocate back to Fort Worth to be with her family, but we don’t know for sure,” Ha said.
Reaction to Pham’s recovery came quickly.
David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Pham’s “recovery is a testament to her perseverance in the face of the disease, the excellent care she has received and the support she had of so many here in Texas and across the nation.”
“… There is nothing medically that will prevent her from resuming a normal life. Based on all of the clinical findings and lab tests, we are completely confident that she has cleared the virus and is of no risk to transmit the virus to others,” Lakey said.
Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan said Pham’s colleagues and friends look forward to welcoming her back.
“Her courage and spirit, first in treating a critically ill Ebola patient and then in winning her own battle against the disease, has truly inspired all of us,” Berdan said.
And Gov. Rick Perry said: “I ask all Texans to join me in wishing her a full and speedy recovery. We thank her for her heroism and selflessness in the battle against Ebola. Rest assured, Texas will not let our guard down in doing everything necessary to protect our state and our citizens from this dangerous disease.”
Pham grew up in east Fort Worth, where her family fled after the 1975 fall of Saigon, Tarrant County Commissioner Andy Nguyen said.
The Phams settled in an area near Arlington where more than 10,000 of the estimated 29,000 Vietnamese residents in Tarrant County live.
Her father, Tien X. Pham opened a small chicken restaurant in the Stop Six neighborhood and worked nonstop to make a better life for his family.
“They were poor and they were broke, and the only thing they had going for them was their work ethic,” Nguyen said. “They worked day and night in a dangerous area of town. They gave up their personal dreams and invested their time and their money in their kids.”
He said Nina Pham’s early experiences may have helped steer her into nursing. Her parents wanted something more glamorous for her, maybe a career as a doctor or lawyer, Nguyen said. But she was adamant about becoming a nurse.
Pham graduated from Nolan Catholic High School in 2006 and attended St. Rita Catholic School before high school, said Hung Le, a longtime family friend.
She was a member of the St. Augustine chapter of the National Honor Society and one of the first students to volunteer for training to help during church services on campus. Sister Rosemary Stanton, director of pastoral services at Nolan, said she trained Pham when she was a senior and during the first year she was hired to work at the Nolan campus.
Pham was serious about her studies and her faith but took time to greet all students as they came to class, Stanton said.
Pham graduated from TCU’s Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences in 2010, an achievement that was noted by Fauci at Friday’s news conference.
The doctor said he was wearing purple to show support for TCU and gave the school a shoutout “for training such an individual.”
Dr. Suzy Lockwood, director of undergraduate nursing in Harris College, said Pham’s caring attitude was evident as a student.
“I clearly remember Nina’s positive attitude during her clinical course work at TCU. The care she provided was not just clinically correct but also showed a genuinely caring spirit,” Lockwood said. “And she always had that big smile that you see in her pictures.”
The Phams attend Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, where her mother is very active, according to the Rev. Jim Khoi, the pastor.
Ha, the family friend, said Pham had to overcome her mother’s objections about caring for Duncan. But she convinced her family that it was her job, he said.
Nguyen said: “Nina really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. And maybe make a little money. She’s a very positive, upbeat individual. The Vietnamese community is very proud of her. A lot of people are praying for her regularly.”
Pham had recently gotten her credentials as a critical-care nurse at Presbyterian when she volunteered to help treat Duncan, who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia in late September.
Fauci said Pham “was with a very sick person” while treating Duncan.
Pham, the first known individual to contract Ebola in the U.S., tested positive for the disease Oct. 12. Another nurse working on the team with Pham, Amber Vinson, also tested positive and is recovering at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Emory officials said Friday that Vinson was also clear of the virus, though she has not been discharged.
Pham said she is looking forward to returning to Texas and being reunited with Bentley.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said that despite the dog’s quarantine, Pham will be able to “visit, hold and play with him tomorrow.”
Staff writers Gordon Dickson and Franco Ordonez contributed to this report.