by Taylor Wilson, The Nebraska Medical Center
As UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., put it, Nebraska 1, Ebola 0.
Rick Sacra, M.D., pictured below, the patient who has been treated at The Nebraska Medical Center for the Ebola virus over the past three weeks, has left his room in the Biocontainment Unit and will soon head home. The CDC confirmed that two separate blood samples taken from Dr. Sacra 24 hours apart show the virus is no longer in his bloodstream.
“I am so grateful,” Dr. Sacra said. “Just so incredibly grateful to have gotten through this illness! Many were praying for me, even people I did not know personally. During the time I was here, there was a growing confidence that God was answering those prayers, and that I was steadily improving. Thanks to God and to the team here at The Nebraska Medical Center!”
“It was very gratifying for the entire team that treated Dr. Sacra to see him walk out the doors healthy again,” said Phil Smith, M.D., medical director of the Biocontainment Unit at The Nebraska Medical Center and professor of internal medicine/infectious diseases at UNMC. “When he arrived three weeks ago, he was extremely ill with a virus the world doesn’t have a lot of experience treating. To know that we were able to play a role in helping his body fight off the virus so he could be reunited with his family and continue doing the work he’s so passionate about makes the years we’ve spent training and preparing for something like this more than worth it.”
Dr. Sacra said he also felt fortunate to be in the hands of the team caring for him at The Nebraska Medical Center. “My care team was excellent,” Dr. Sacra said. “They were compassionate, patient and provided an incredibly high level of care.” He said as he started to feel better and was waiting to be allowed to leave the unit, those caring for him did everything they could to keep him entertained. “They brought me books to read, played chess with me and we had conversations about dozens of different topics,” Dr. Sacra said. “My only worry is that I may not recognize them when I am out of the unit, since I only know them by their eyes and their voices!”
The doctors caring for Dr. Sacra say they feel privileged to contribute to the world’s fight against the Ebola virus. “We’ve been in constant contact with the CDC, the World Health Organization and a member of the White House medical staff,” said Angela Hewlett, M.D., associate medical director of the Biocontainment Unit and assistant professor of internal medicine/infectious diseases at UNMC. “We have been sharing everything we’ve learned about caring for Dr. Sacra and we will continue to do so as we have the opportunity to examine all of the data related to his treatment. It is an honor to not only help save our patient’s life, but to potentially save the lives of others fighting this disease around the world.”
Dr. Gold called the Sacras a remarkably courageous family and praised their care team at the med center — the members of the team in the biocontainment unit who put in long hours in a stressful situation, the rest of campus for continuing to perform their duties while helping ease fears of others in the community, and those in the research and clinical areas, a partnership he said “made all the difference.”
Dr. Sacra contracted the Ebola virus while treating patients in West Africa. He works for SIM, an international mission group that responds to areas of need worldwide. “I would like to offer a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the exceptional doctors, nurses and staff at The Nebraska Medical Center for your caring hearts, keen minds and gifted abilities with Rick and Debbie,” said Bruce Johnson, president, SIM USA. “May God multiply your work, that it will result in the survival of thousands in West Africa who may become infected with Ebola.”
Dr. Sacra became the first patient in The Nebraska Medical Center’s Biocontainment Unit on Sept. 5. Dr. Sacra received a research drug called TKM-Ebola, which inhibits the virus’s ability to replicate. He was also treated with plasma from Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, along with other supportive care. Doctors say it’s not clear yet if it was a single factor or a combination of all of them that helped Dr. Sacra survive.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who got me through this,” said Dr. Sacra. “Everyone made me feel so welcome that I am now an official lifetime Huskers fan!”