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Another missionary beats ebola, plans return to Africa

SIM missionary Dr. Rick Sacra left a Nebraska hospital Sept. 25, praising God for his recovery from Ebola.

“God has used you to restore my life to me,” the 51-year-old Sacra said, thanking his doctors at a Thursday morning news conference at The Nebraska Medical Center. “I am so grateful.”

Sacra contracted Ebola on Aug. 29 after caring for pregnant women in a supposedly Ebola-free Liberian hospital ward. He told reporters the epidemic is so out-of-control that people who didn’t have classic symptoms likely escaped screening. He arrived in Nebraska on Sept. 5.

“I never felt like I was not going to make it,” he said. “The care was so excellent, so speedy, and so prompt.”

Dr. Phil Smith said Sacra received a combination of an experimental drug, supportive fluids and electrolytes, and blood plasma from Ebola survivor and friend Dr. Kent Brantly. As a result, doctors said they are unsure what ultimately helped him fight off the virus.

Sacra planned to return to his Massachusetts home to recover, after which he said it’s likely he’ll return to Liberia. During today’s press conference, the world got to see the dry humor previously relayed only through others, who marked his progress based on his Ben & Jerry’s ice cream consumption and relayed his declaration that isolation was boring.

“I would have worn my Huskers shirt to this event, but I was told that would be inappropriate,” Sacra said, gesturing to his wife.

News of Sacra’s release came even as a second Spanish priest fell victim to the disease Thursday, dying in a Madrid hospital after his evacuation from Sierra Leone. A fourth American is still receiving treatment at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. “I would like to request a continued outpouring of prayer and practical support for the people of West Africa,” Sacra said. “Unfortunately, the Ebola crisis continues to spin out of control.”

Top American doctors continue to combat fear that American hospitals aren’t prepared for Ebola. Some biosafety experts told The Guardian they wonder if medical waste disposal infrastructure could be a fatal flaw in the system. Even Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital initially had trouble safely handing off to its disposal contractors the 40 bags of contagious waste generated daily by caring for Brantly and fellow missionary Nancy Writebol.

Similar concerns have hampered congressional support for President Barack Obama’s Ebola response plan. Lawmakers demanded details of how the 3,000 promised American troops can remain safe. Before they sign off on Obama’s request for $1 billion, some congressional Republicans also are demanding a more detailed spending plan, since the president wants to reroute the money from Afghanistan.

Officially, more than 6,200 people have fallen ill in West Africa, and more than 2,900 have died. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that in a worst-case scenario, the disease could infect 1.4 million by the end of January. Following last weekend’s country-wide lockdown and door-to-door search, Sierra Leone has issued new quarantines, restricting the movements of roughly 2 million people in reported hotspots.

But the disease appears to have been contained in Senegal and Nigeria. And the World Health Organization said for the first time Wednesday that vaccines in the testing phase could be available in useful quantities by the end of the year. The mood was similarly optimistic as Sacra left The Nebraska Medical Center.

“Everyone made me feel so welcome that I am now an official lifetime Huskers fan!” Sacra said, pumping his fist. “Go Big Red!”

As a reporter with Omaha’s KETV put it, “Nebraska 1, Ebola 0.”

— by Andrew Branch

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