The nation’s attention has shifted away from the lethal Ebola virus because there are no active cases in the U.S., survivor Dr. Kent Brantly said Tuesday, but he urged the American public to remember that the fight still rages in West Africa.
“We need to be careful that our sense of compassion is not replaced by indifference,” Brantly said in response to questions after he was awarded a proclamation at a packed Tarrant County Comissioners Court meeting, where he received two standing ovations.
Brantly, 33, who did his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, became the first U.S. face of Ebola after he contracted the disease in July while serving as a missionary physician in West Africa. He was airlifted to Emory University Hospital and survived, but he said it was a close call.
“Thursday, the 31st of July, I almost died,” he said Tuesday. “And my doctors thought I was about to die, my caretakers in the room thought I was about to die, and they sent out the word asking everyone to pray for me. And that was the night I received ZMapp, the experimental drug, and I had a very dramatic response to that drug and to that course of prayer that was being lifted up for me around the world.”
The young doctor, accompanied by his wife, Amber, and their two children, received a proclamation declaring Tuesday “Dr. Kent Brantly Day.” He and his family have largely stayed out of the public eye as he finished recuperating.
Now, he said, “I feel great, I feel great. I feel like my health is back to normal … just like any other 33-year-old who needs to exercise more and get into shape.”
Brantly said he continues to work for Samaritan’s Purse, the charity that sent him to West Africa.
“My wife and I feel like God has placed a calling in our lives to serve people in great need — that’s why we moved to Liberia in the first place. It wasn’t to fight Ebola, we moved there before Ebola. Right now, I feel like the best role I can play in fighting Ebola is to stand here and be a voice for the people of West Africa who have no voice here.”
As of Dec. 6, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 17,834 Ebola cases in West Africa, 11,214 of those confirmed by a laboratory, and 6,346 deaths.
The first U.S. case of the virus was in Dallas, where Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed in September and died in October. Two nurses — Nina Pham of Fort worth and Amber Vinson of Dallas — contracted the virus from Duncan and survived.
Brantly said he eventually hopes to get back to his earlier work in Liberia, where he delivered babies and took care of other healthcare needs in the impoverished country before the outbreak.
Brantly said he feels he can help more people right now as medical missions adviser for the charity, speaking and working with the organization’s leadership on its response to Ebola.
And, he said, “I spend as much time as I can with my family.”
Speaking before the county commissioners, Brantly thanked the court for being honored.
“This is nothing I ever expected and I’m very humbled by this honor,” Brantly said.
He thanked his friends from the hospital and at the Southside Church of Christ for their emotional and financial assistance.
“It was the support of these communities that played such a big role in my recovery,” Brantly said. “I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there are so many others that have done so much more than I have done.”
Staff writer Bill Hanna contributed to this report.
Judy Wiley: 817-390-7843