Skip to main content

Send me: U.S. doctor treated for Ebola drawn to mission work since youth

By Chelsea J. Carter and Jason Hanna, CNN
updated 10:05 PM EDT, Sat August 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Report: "I'm praying fervently that God will help me survive," the doctor writes
  • Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, was diagnosed with Ebola hemorrhagic fever
  • He was working at an Ebola treatment center in Liberia when he was diagnosed
  • Brantly's wife and children show no symptoms of Ebola, the CDC says

Atlanta (CNN) -- Dr. Kent Brantly answered a calling.

That's what friends and colleagues say about the man who garnered national headlines when he became the first known Ebola hemorrhagic fever patient in the United States.

Brantly, 33, arrived Saturday in Atlanta from Liberia, where he and another American missionary worker contracted the deadly virus while caring for Ebola patients.

From an early age, Brantly was driven by his faith in God to make a difference, friends and former colleagues said. He took mission trips to Uganda, Honduras, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Haiti, they said.

"He intended to be a missionary before he became a doctor," friend Kent Smith, an elder at Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, told CNN.

"Eventually, he decided medical mission is what he wanted to do."

Brantly went to Liberia with his wife and two children last year to serve a two-year fellowship through Samaritan's Purse post-residency program.

He was there initially to practice general medicine. But when the Ebola outbreak began, he took on the role of medical director for the Samaritan's Purse Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia. It's there that he tested positive for the virus, according to the evangelical Christian relief charity.

There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola, and it has a mortality rate of up to 90%.

iReport: Ebola patient arrives

Brantly is in an isolation ward at Emory University Hospital, near the headquarters for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ebola patient arrives at hospital
Atlanta hospital braces for Ebola cases
U.S. doctor isolates himself at home

Doctor put sick patients first

The news Brantly contracted Ebola has prompted many to ask why would he put himself at risk.

The answer might be difficult for some to understand, his former college and medical school professor wrote in an op-ed published this week in The Indianapolis Star.

"Simply put, he would say that he had been called to care for the patients in Liberia," Richard Gunderman wrote in the newspaper.

None of it has been surprising to Smith, who first met Brantly five years ago at church.

"When he first started coming to our church, he and his wife made it clear ... they were committed to medical missions," he said.

Before heading to Liberia in October 2013, Brantly did his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

'What do I bring to the table?'

"We're kind of proud that there was a hero out there trying to do his best to make life better for other folks under the circumstances," a physician who knows him, Dr. Paul Pepe of Dallas' UT Southwestern Medical Center, told CNN affiliate WFAA this week.

Brantly attended high school in Indianapolis before graduating from Abilene Christian University (Texas) in 2003 and Indiana University's medical school in 2009.

While at Abilene Christian, he spent a summer interning overseas with a program focused on vocational missions experiences, ACU's online alumni magazine reported.

"Everyone here who has been connected with Kent knows him to be someone who is very compassionate, considerate and always upbeat in all he does," the program's director, Dr. Gary Green, told the magazine.

"... Kent's the kind of guy who would weigh benefits versus risk, then try to take himself out of the equation so that he would be thinking, 'What do I bring to the table? Is the risk worth taking because I can benefit so many people?'"

It perhaps may explain why when only one dose of an experimental serum to treat Ebola was made available this week in Liberia that Brantly turned it down and asked that it be given to his colleague.

"I would have been surprised if he had not done that," Smith said.

'Praying fervently'

In an e-mail this week from Monrovia, Brantly told a fellow doctor at John Peter Smith Hospital that he is "terrified," according to The Indianapolis Star.

"I'm praying fervently that God will help me survive this disease," Brantly said in an e-mail to Dr. David McRay, the newspaper reported.

Though Brantly's wife and children had been in Liberia with him, they were in the United States when he became ill.

"Many people have been asking how I am doing," Amber Brantly said in a statement released earlier this week. "The children and I are physically fine."

The CDC has said neither Brantly's wife or his children are symptomatic.

Brantly's wife, parents and sister cried when they saw him on CNN, walking from the ambulance into the hospital, a family representative said on condition of anonymity. His wife, Amber, later said she was relieved that her husband was back in the United States.

"I spoke with him, and he is glad to be back in the U.S.," she said in statement sent to CNN. "I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital."

Brantly's wife visited with him from behind a glass wall for about 45 minutes, the family representative said. Kent Brantly was described as being "in great spirits and so grateful."

CNN's Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
The largest Ebola epidemic in history began with the simple act of caring for a child. Soon, it spread from the remote village in Guinea.
updated 9:27 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
The worst-ever outbreak of Ebola virus is stretching the medical capacities of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
updated 4:11 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Before the deaths soared into the thousands, before the outbreak triggered global fears, Ebola struck a toddler named Emile Ouamouno.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
What happens when you get Ebola? CNN's Miguel Marquez explains.
updated 3:52 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Health experts are fast-tracking tests for various vaccines, and hope to have millions of experimental doses by next year.
updated 7:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Ebola is a scary infectious disease but the first thing you should know is that it's not very contagious. Here is how it spreads.
updated 12:46 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
These questions and answers will give you the latest information on the deadly virus and what's being done to stop its spread.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Up to three Ebola-infected travelers might board an international flight each month in West Africa, according to a new study, and potentially spread the deadly virus.
updated 9:45 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
There's no cure for Ebola. So why have some patients walked away healthy while others in the West died?
updated 6:25 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
A doctor at a government-run Ebola treatment center in Monrovia is too busy to mince words.
updated 7:33 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Two children orphaned by Ebola play in the empty corner of a Liberian orphanage. Their parents died last month, and none of the extended family is willing to claim them.
updated 12:55 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Public health experts are asking whether the CDC is partly to blame for problems with Ebola in the U.S. Here are 5 things they say the CDC is getting wrong.
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The lack of solid protocol on what to do with Ebola victims' pets and what little is known about the risk has caused one dog to be euthanized and another quarantined.
updated 1:58 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Rosie Tomkins takes a look at the protective suits that are worn by some Ebola medical workers in Africa.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
What's the protocol for health care workers if they suspect a patient has the virus
updated 5:26 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
Click through our gallery as we track the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
A look at CNN's complete coverage on the Ebola crisis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT