The Ebola Survivor Who Works In An Ebola Ward

Sep 26, 2014
Originally published on September 28, 2014 6:50 pm

Dauda Fullah works in the tent where he faced his own death.

The skinny 23-year-old was an Ebola patient at the treatment center set up at Kenema Hospital in Sierra Leone.

Fullah's father had contracted the disease a few months ago and died a few days later. He helped bury his dad; that night he came down with a fever.

"I had to run fast to the hospital, because I knew that I have been with my dad," he recalls. He tested positive for Ebola and was admitted to this clinic. Then, the rest of his family fell ill and joined him inside the tent: his stepmother, his younger brother and sister, his grandmother.

Fullah recovered. But one by one, his family members passed away, just a few yards from his bed.

Before he fell ill, Fullah had worked as a lab technician in a hospital. When he got better, he asked if he could work at the Ebola ward. He was hired to draw blood.

He feels it's a way of helping out, just as other helped him when he was ill, "going in, sacrific[ing] their lives to fight for mine. So I have to do the same. I have that humanitarian feeling for those admitted here now."

He provides more than medical support. Helena Makeni, a nurse who cared for Fullah, says that he encourages the patients who are really struggling. He goes up to them and says, "Look, I've been through this, and I survived. Just do what the doctors say, and keep fighting." And they listen.

To Makeni, who's seen 37 colleagues contract Ebola and die, it makes sense to hire survivors like Fullah. She believes "they are more safer than us."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's unclear if Ebola survivors have long-term immunity to the disease. There are no known cases of Ebola survivors getting reinfected, and monkeys remain immune for years. But there's not enough data on humans to be certain.

Nonetheless, the CDC and other health organizations are planning to train survivors to work in Ebola treatment centers and provide home care. As a precaution, protective gear is provided. Fullah wears a plastic suit, goggles and rubber gloves.

The job is brutal in many ways. "It's really hot," he says, emerging from a shift soaked in sweat. "Very much difficult to work in there because you don't have fresh air around you."

Then there's the emotional stress. "It's very, very hard seeing people die. Really, I don't want to talk about it." But he says he'll stand by the doctors and nurses, who are now like family to him.

"Every day I pray for my colleagues," he says, "so that this Ebola thing, the Almighty will just take it far away from the world."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the Ebola epidemic, the death toll in West Africa has risen above 3,000. That's according to the World Health Organization. Our coverage today begins in Sierra Leone. In that country the outbreak started in the East, near a city called Kenema. That's one of the first treatment facilities was built. That's an incredibly dangerous place to work, dozens of staff members have died from Ebola, others have fled. NPR's Anders Kelto met a health worker in Kenema, who is not at risk.

ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: You have to do a lot of things just to get to the Ebola treatment center at Kenema Hospital. First you pass through these two orange plastic fences and wash your hands in chlorine water. Then a guy with a hand pump sprays down your boots. You walk across some rocks that allow rainwater to drain and eventually you get to the Ebola ward, which is basically a big white tent. As I approach, a young man steps out of the tent. He's thin and wearing a white t-shirt that says, goodfella. He's completely soaked with sweat because he's just taken off a plastic suit, goggles and rubber gloves. A colleague hands him a bag of water, which he immediately chugs.

DAUDA FULLAH: It's really hot, it's really hot, it's very much difficult to walk in there, because you don't have fresh air you it's really difficult.

KELTO: His name is Dauda Fullah and he's 23. A couple months ago his dad got Ebola and died a few days later. Dauda helped bury him. That night Dauda came down with a fever and knew he had to act quickly.

FULLAH: I had to run fast to the hospital because I knew that I have had been with my dad who was suffering from this Ebola disease.

KELTO: Dauda tested positive for Ebola and was admitted to this clinic. Then the rest of his family got sick and joined him here, inside the tent.

FULLAH: My stepmother, my younger brother, my sister and my grandmother also.

KELTO: One by one they all passed away, just a few yards from his bed.

FULLAH: I am the only survivor person in my family.

KELTO: Before he got sick Dauda had worked in a hospital lab. When he got better he asked if he could work here at Kenema's Ebola ward. He was hired to draw blood.

KELTO: After you recovered and you were released you chose to come back here and to work in that same tent where your whole family passed away.

FULLAH: Yeah.

KELTO: Why did you do that?

FULLAH: Well, when I was sick had people going in sacrifice their lives to fight for mine, you know. So I have to do the same. I have that humanitarian feeling for those admitted here now.

KELTO: Helena McCarthy is a nurse here. She took care of Dauda when he was sick and now they work together. She says when he's in the ward he encourages the patients who are really struggling.

HELENA MCCARTHY: He's the best person to talk to the patients. Who make the patients understand and believe, because some of them, when they are in there they believe that they will not make it.

KELTO: But when Dauda goes up to them and says, look I've been through this and I survived, just do what the doctor say and keep fighting, they listen. And McCarthy says because Dauda has already had Ebola, he's very unlikely to get it again. McCarthy has seen 37 of her colleagues here die from Ebola. So to her hiring survivors just makes sense.

MCCARTHY: It's a very good idea because they are more safer than us.

KELTO: The CDC says it's unclear if Ebola survivors have long-term immunity to the disease. There aren't any known cases of Ebola survivors getting re-infected. But CDC says there's just not enough data to be certain that doesn't happen. Nonetheless they and other health organizations are planning to train survivors to work in Ebola treatment centers and to provide home-based care. Dauda Fullah, the young man who lost his family, says working in this Ebola ward can be devastating.

FULLAH: It's very, very hard, really, you know seeing, you know, people die, really I don't want to talk about it really.

KELTO: And he says he worries about more doctors and nurses here getting sick. They're like family to him now.

FULLAH: Every day I pray for my colleagues, I pray for the nurses. Everybody, I'm still praying for them, so that this Ebola thing, the all mighty will just take it far away from the world.

KELTO: Anders Kelto, NPR News, Kenema, Sierra Leone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.