Franklin Graham was certain one day in 2014 that Dr. Kent Brantly was going to die.
Brantly, on a mission for Graham’s international relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, had contracted the lethal Ebola virus while he was helping others in Liberia. Many lay ill or dying in Africa and fear of the virus, even in the U.S., was rampant.
“When I got the phone call that Kent Brantly had Ebola, I knew I could not save him,” said the North Carolina evangelist, who is CEO and board president of Samaritan’s Purse. “And there was no way I could get him out of Liberia. I couldn’t do it.”
Then the virus was confirmed in Nancy Writebol, another missionary who had been assisting Brantly at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
When I got the phone call that Kent Brantly had Ebola, I knew I could not save him. And there was no way I could get him out of Liberia. I couldn’t do it.
Samaritan’s Purse has produced a 98-minute documentary covering the struggles of combatting Ebola and the effort to bring both missionaries back to the United States for treatment. Facing Darkness will be shown one night only in theaters across the country on March 30.
Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, was in North Texas Wednesday, five days after appearing at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. He has drawn attention lately for favorable comments about Trump, but his focus Wednesday was on promoting the film.
“I want young people to see that they can make a difference in this world and to get involved,” Graham said. “That’s my hope. That we’ll get an army of Kent Brantlys.”
The events that led to Brantly and Writebol’s recovery — from getting a dose of the experimental drug, ZMapp to finding Phoenix Air, the jet charter company that has a plane equipped with a medical isolation unit — are detailed in the film.
Brantly, now working as a physician for the JPS Health Network in Fort Worth, is shown treating Ebola patients, which goes on to depict the effort to save his life.
“As soon as Dr. Brantly got it, the world was paying attention,” Graham said.
Graham said attitudes changed because of Brantly, whom he expects to eventually return overseas.
“I think the Brantlys will go back but I think he is in a different role now because he became a spokesman of Ebola,” Graham said. “I think that’s the role for him. He can be a spokesman — not just for Ebola but for missionary medicine — to challenge another generation to respond.”
When Graham was trying to find a way to get Brantly and Writebol home, many — including Trump — opposed their return. Graham said the fear is understandable but he said he believes the reaction would be different now, since Brantly and others were brought back and recovered.
“I understand people wanting to protect America,” Graham said. “I understand that. But you also have to understand these are citizens that have rights. You have a right. I have a right. We need to be able to bring infected people like this safely to this country where they can be treated.”
Graham also thanked the Obama administration for its efforts in helping Brantly’s recovery.
“I never had a very good relationship with his administration but they did — once Dr. Brantly got infected — whatever they could to help,” Graham said. “I’m very appreciative of that.”
There were 11,323 Ebola deaths and 28,646 cases reported by the time the outbreak ended, according to the World Health Organization. Texas had one death of the virus when Thomas Eric Duncan died on Oct. 8, 2014, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas after traveling from Liberia.
The effort continues in Liberia, where the risk of another Ebola outbreak is always a concern.
Graham said the Liberian government and relief organizations have a far better understanding of Ebola transmission. In fact, he said they now believe Brantly became ill in the main hospital wing rather than in the Ebola unit.
“Yes, Ebola will come back,” Graham said. “It’s just a matter of time. But there’s a lot we know now that we didn’t know then. Now we know the protocols. We know how it’s transmitted.”