An American doctor treated for Ebola, Kent Brantly, was discharged from Atlanta's Emory University Hospital today. Another American aid worker, Nancy Writebol, was discharged Tuesday.
"God saved my life," said Brantly, looking gaunt, at a press conference Thursday, at which the room applauded his appearance. He thanked his medical team and the millions of people around the world praying for his recovery. "Please do not stop praying for the people of West Africa."
Bruce Ribner, medical director of the hospital's infectious disease unit, said Brantly will go to an undisclosed location with his wife and children after the press conference.
Brantly and Writebol, a volunteer with SIM USA, were flown to Emory from West Africa and were treated in the hospital's specialized unit.
Ribner said the hospital performed extensive blood and urine tests on both patients and consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before deciding the two missionaries were ready to be released. Neither pose any risk to the public, he said. Five doctors and 21 nurses cared for Brantly and Writebol during their stay.
"After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, the Emory healthcare team has determined that both patients have recovered from the Ebola virus and can return to their families and community without concern for spreading this infection to others," Ribner said. "We are profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have applied our training, our care and our experience to meet their needs. All of us who have worked with them have been impressed by their courage and determination."
In his statement, Brantly said his family arrived in Liberia last November and he saw his first Ebola patient in June. "We took every precaution to protect ourselves from this dreaded disease," Brantly said.
On July 23, just a few days after sending his family home, however, Brantly said he woke up feeling sick, and soon learned that he was infected.
Writebol chose not to make a statement. However, Brantly related that, as she left her isolation unit, she said, "To God be the glory."
In a statement, Writebol's husband, David, said, "Nancy joined the ranks of a small, but hopefully growing number of survivors. . . . Nancy is free of the virus, but the lingering effects of the battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition. Thus, we decided it would be best to leave the hospital privately to be able to give her the rest and recuperation she needs at this time. During the course of her fight, Nancy recalled the dark hours of fear and loneliness, but also a sense of the deep abiding peace and presence of God, giving her comfort. She was greatly encouraged knowing that there were so many people around the world lifting prayers to God for her return to health. Her departure from the hospital, free of the disease, is powerful testimony to God's sustaining grace in time of need."
Ribner said he hopes what he and his colleagues learned about treating Ebola can help save other patients in Africa.
While in Liberia, Brantly received a blood transfusion from an Ebola survivor.
Both Brantly and Writebol received doses of an experimental drug, called Zmapp, which includes man-made antibodies against Ebola. Although Zmapp has shown promise in animals, it has not yet been tested in humans. Experts have said it's not possible to conclude that Zmapp cured their disease, although getting good supportive care at Emory, one of the world's best hospitals, likely improved their chances of survival.
"If the question is, 'Did Zmapp do this?' The answer is that we just don't know," says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. "People who are in much less sophtisticated medical care conditions in West Africa are recovering 50% of the time."
Without a carefully designed trial -- involving a comparison group that doesn't receive the drug -- doctors can't make conclusions about how a treatment works. About half of Ebola patients in the current outbreak are surviving without the experimental drug. But a Spanish priest who received Zmapp died, Fauci says.
Three Liberian health workers also received Zmapp. The drug's manufacturer, Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, has said there is no more of the drug left.
According to CNN, two blood tests done over a two-day period had to come back negative for Ebola before Brantly could be discharged. David Writebol, Nancy's husband, was released from quarantine earlier this week. Doctors had observed him for three weeks, monitoring him for signs of fever. Ebola can have an incubation period of up to 21 days.
People generally aren't considered contagious unless they have symptoms of Ebola, such as fever.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent at least 50 staff to West Africa to help contain the epidemic.
"We must re-commit to doing all we can to increase their chances of survival and to stop the spread of Ebola," said CDC director Thomas Frieden in a statement. "This outbreak is unprecedented, and it's likely to get worse before it gets better. We must respond in unprecedented way to stop the outbreak as soon as possible."
In concluding his statement, Brantly said he is "glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic. Please continue to pray for Liberia and the people of West Africa, and encourage those in positions of leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end.
Samaritan's Purse, the Christian humanitarian organization for which Brantly works, released this statement from its president, Franklin Graham, Thursday morning:
Today I join all of our Samaritan's Purse team around the world in giving thanks to God as we celebrate Dr. Kent Brantly's recovery from Ebola and release from the hospital. Over the past few weeks, I have marveled at Dr. Brantly's courageous spirit as he has fought this horrible virus with the help of the highly competent and caring staff at Emory University Hospital. His faithfulness to God and compassion for the people of Africa have been an example to us all.
I know that Dr. Brantly and his wonderful family would ask that you please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola. Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.
We have more than 350 staff in Liberia, and others will soon be joining them, so please pray for those who have served with Dr. Brantly -- along with the other doctors, aid workers and organizations that are at this very moment desperately trying to stop Ebola from taking any more lives.