There were feelings of joy and relief Saturday as church members and friends of Dr. Kent Brantly, the Fort Worth doctor who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia, watched him on television climb from the back of an ambulance and walk into a Georgia hospital.
“The only thing I can say to express my feelings is praise God; it was unbelievable,” said Kent Smith, Brantly’s friend and elder at Southside Church of Christ. "My wife and I were obviously glued to the television coverage this morning, and as the ambulance pulled up to the door I turned to her and said, 'Wouldn’t it be great if he did something like give the thumbs up while they are wheeling him in' and then the thought of him walking in never occurred to me and you see him walk in and you just have goose bumps.”
Brantley arrived Saturday afternoon at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where he will receive treatment for the deadly virus, in one of the most advanced isolation units in the country. He is the first patient with Ebola to be treated in the U.S. The State Department is also working to bring missionary Nancy Writebol, a second American stricken with the deadly disease, back to the U.S.
While Smith wants to believe that Brantley's ability to walk the short distance from the ambulance to the hospital's entrance is a positive sign, he knows Brantly has a long road ahead.
“Today has been a good day — there has been some positive news, some positive developments today, and I think that lifts everyone’s spirits,” Smith said. “At the same time we still realize he is not out of the woods yet — he still has a battle in front of him, and we continue to be mindful of his friend Nancy who still has to make that same trip.”
“He’s a strong person physically and mentally and spiritually so it’s certainly encouraging,” Smith added.
But, a friend and colleague from John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Dr. Jason Brewington, said it's hard to determine his condition based upon the video of him walking into the hospital.
“We were excited,” Brewington said. “As a physician, though, seeing how weak he appeared, how gingerly he was stepping, he had someone there holding his hand, his arm, the whole time and so he had been through a lot."
Brewington said Brantly may have mustered up the strength to walk on Saturday, but the virus is making his body very weak.
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“This disease is something that’s very debilitating, and you think of people who have Influenza maybe have a little bit of the experience of what he has gone through with the fevers and body aches, but you can’t imagine the other symptoms and the bleeding and just how weak your body becomes,” Brewington said.
“The hemorrhaging that can happen, life-threatening illness, and it’s hard to imagine someone with that severe of a disease having enough strength to walk out of an ambulance," Brewington added. "It may have been a personal decision for him, and I think maybe similar with other viruses the symptoms may get a little bit better and get a little bit worse as the disease progresses.”
Brewington said it can take up to three weeks for Ebola to fully progress, and Brantly is a little more than a week into his diagnosis.
Both Brewington and Smith said they are thrilled their friend is back in the United States.
“He’s my friend, and I love him,” Smith said, “I want him to have access to the best care possible and if that’s at Emory University’s isolation ward then I’m glad that’s where he is.”
“I think offering him the best treatment that we have, as much as he has given to help other people, I think it’s only fair that he has the opportunity to receive the best treatment in the world,” Brewington said.