Surgeon may come to US for Ebola treatment

Dr. Martin Salia, chief medical officer and surgeon at United Methodist Kissy Hospital, may be coming to Nebraska Medical Center for treatment for Ebola.

United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu confirmed that Salia will be evacuated if he is judged able to travel and will arrive in Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. Nebraska hospital  officials said a patient will be evaluated. Taylor Wilson, hospital spokesman, said hospital officials are awaiting word on the patient's  condition for travel. Wilson said he could not confirm the name of the patient because of privacy regulations.

Yambasu said Friday that he had spoken with Dr. Salia's wife, Isatu, at her home in Maryland both after her husband was diagnosed with Ebola and after he received word that Salia might be flown to the United States for treatment. 

He said she was extremely upset and crying the first time he spoke with her, partly because she had not been able to speak with her husband. He said he was able to arrange for her to talk with her husband and that when he spoke with her again she was in much better spirits.

"She was relieved that she was able to talk with her husband and that he may be flown to the U.S. for medical treatment," said Yambasu, who added that he prayed with Mrs. Salia each time he spoke with her. Yambasu said Mrs. Salia is a U.S. citizen. 

Dr. Brima Kargbo, the Sierra Leone government's chief medical officer, told The Associated Press that Salia will be taken to Nebraska for treatment.

The Omaha facility, which has already treated two patients with Ebola, is one of four centers in the United States designated to treat Ebola patients. Two Americans, Dr. Rick Sacra and Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman who worked for NBC, were treated there and released last month.

Kissy United Methodist Hospital was closed Nov. 11 after Salia tested positive for Ebola. He is the sixth doctor in Sierra Leone to be infected with the deadly virus and was taken to the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center near Freetown. The other five doctors died.

‘Trained as a Christian surgeon’

In an interview with United Methodist Communications earlier this year, Salia talked about how important it was for him to work at a Christian hospital.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be rosy, but why did I decide to choose this job? I firmly believe God wanted me to do it. And I knew deep within myself. There was just something inside of me that the people of this part of Freetown needed help," Salia said. 

"I see it as God’s own desired framework for me.  I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to. . . .  And I’m pretty sure, I’m confident that I just need to lean on him trust him, for whatever comes in, because he sent me here. And that’s my passion,” Salia said. 

He talked about his training as a Christian surgeon.

“And so by the time you finish your training, you are more or less like the pastor, you become a pastor. … Whenever we want to start surgery, we pray. I am just being used as an instrument or as a surgeon to carry out God’s own plan for that person’s life.”

Kissy serves one of the poorest neighborhoods in Freetown. The 60-bed United Methodist hospital is part of a larger community outreach that includes a school, an eye clinic, and a newly updated maternal and child health facility. 

Bishop Yambasu says the doctors working there know they are part of a mission hospital.

“We tell our doctors that we are a mission hospital. First, give the treatment to the person. Make sure the person receives the best treatment, and then you ask for money. About 60 to 70 percent of the patients that come into this hospital really do not have the resources to pay their bills. And, so, we augment that. We underwrite that. And that’s where we need partners to come in.”

Salia said his philosophy is simple: “God will heal them. And money comes.

“I firmly believe God wanted me to do this job. It was a calling.”

Protecting the staff

After Salia’s condition was known, Yambasu and Beatrice Gbanga, the United Methodist Sierra Leone Conference’s medical coordinator, held an emergency meeting at the hospital to talk about steps to protect the staff and disinfect the hospital immediately.

“I was emotionally disturbed when I got news this morning that Dr. Salia had tested positive of Ebola. I prayed that the news might turn out to be false,” Yambasu said at the meeting.

It is not clear how Dr. Salia contracted the virus. But health ministry sources say the doctor worked at least three other medical facilities in addition to Kissy Hospital.

Several units of Kissy Hospital, including surgical wards, were shut down last month when a patient who was admitted to the hospital for other health conditions manifested signs of Ebola. That patient was taken to the Government Connaught Hospital in central Freetown where he died.

Salia’s infection comes several weeks after the 21-day quarantine imposed on all staff who had direct dealing with the patient who died.

Hospital staff will be quarantined for 21 days. The Sierra Leone Conference Ebola response team will provide a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice, sugar, milk, soap, water and other food to the quarantined staff. The staffers will also be given minutes for their cell phones so they can report on their health condition in case of any emergency or deteriorating health.

The Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation were immediately informed and the national Ebola response team will visit the hospital in the coming days to carry out fumigation of the entire hospital premises.

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Phileas Jusu, director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, contributed to this story.

News media contact: Diane Degnan at (615) 483-1765 or DDegnan@umcom.org. 

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