American Ebola patient in Nebraska treated with other survivor's blood
Dr. Rick Sacra has also been given an unnamed experimental drug
Sacra improves daily, hopes Americans continue to help people in West Africa
Sacra and Brantly were infected with Ebola while working in Liberia with the aid organization Serving in Mission. Sacra was treating patients in an obstetrics clinic in Monrovia and was not working directly with Ebola patients. He said that he does not know how he became infected with the virus but that it’s possible one of the women he helped had the disease.
But the two doctors also have another thing in common: They have the same blood type.
That little fact could be life-saving for Sacra. Brantly, who tested negative for the deadly virus after several weeks of treatment, recently flew to Nebraska where Sacra is in isolation and donated his blood.
Doctors treated Sacra with this plasma on at least two occasions. Doctors believe Brantly has antibodies that Sacra lacks, but his immune system needs to help him fight the deadly virus.
“They are so similar it didn’t surprise me that they were the same blood type,” said his Sacra’s spouse, Debbie Sacra.
Sacra’s doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha said their patient is improving every day.
“We were down to the last shot and it worked out great,” Dr. Phil Smith said at a press conference Thursday about finding a blood match. “We were hoping to jump start his immunity.”
At this point, doctors don’t feel like Sacra will relapse, but they’ve been cautious about predicting success. Doctors in Africa told them there is typically a “honeymoon period” for patients after which they often get dramatically worse.
Sacra, however, has gotten better daily. Dr. Angela Hewlett said his condition has been moved up to “good” from “stable.”
In addition to the blood transfusion, doctors gave Sacra aggressive supportive care, including electrolytes and IV fluids. The Nebraska doctors also gave Sacra an experimental drug called TKM-Ebola, which the FDA recently approved for wider use.
The Nebraska doctors have also given Sacra an experimental drug that they will not name. He has received it every day, and his doctors say they believe it is helping.
Sacra locked himself in his room for three days when he first came down with a fever in Liberia on August 29. A mobile CDC lab confirmed he had the disease on the third day, and by the sixth he was flying home to the United States.
The drug had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys, but had not been given to humans until doctors tried it in the Emory patients. Doctors there credit the drug with playing a role in their patients’ successful recoveries, but the company has said there are no more doses of the drug available.
It’s possible Sacra has received another experimental drug that’s in production called TKM-Ebola.
Nebraska doctors think the current treatment has helped Sacra’s condition significantly.
The first day, Smith said, was “pretty rocky.” Sacra’s spouse said he had to be sedated on the flight over. On the second day of treatment he was already showing signs of improvement, even with some “abnormalities in his organ systems.”
On the third day Smith told his colleagues that he liked “the way this is going.”
His doctors still want Sacra to eat more. Debbie Sacra said he is still weak. On Wednesday the hospital put an exercise bike in his room that he rode for 10 minutes before tiring out.
Sacra used to ride 15 to 35 miles in one day, at least a few times a week.
Because doctors still know so little about how to defeat the Ebola virus, Smith said Sacra, as a physician, has been a particularly helpful patient. He has been able to give detailed reports about his symptoms.
Debbie Sacra said the CDC has told her that they are still trying to find out how her husband got sick in the first place.
He was in Liberia treating patients in an obstetrics clinic in Monrovia, not working directly with Ebola patients. The CDC believe it happened during an emergency at the hospital, Sacra said.
So far, no one else at Sacra’s clinic has gotten sick.
Sacra has done missionary health work for the past 25 years. He had flown to Monrovia in August after learning his colleagues from Serving in Mission had gotten sick. Sacra worried that Ebola would cause a “domino effect” on the already vulnerable Liberian health care system and that people with common ailments wouldn’t get help.
When Sacra arrived in Monrovia, that’s exactly what he found. His wife, Debbie, has said there wasn’t a single pair of latex gloves to buy in the entire city. Without protective equipment, medical clinics shut down. She says Sacra drove from hardware store to hardware store, looking for boots to protect his staff.
Without protective equipment, medical clinics shut down. She says Sacra drove from hardware store to hardware store looking for boots to protect his staff.
When he was finally able to open the clinic, for some it was too late. She says dozens of pregnant women who needed Cesarean sections turned up at the clinic after having failed to find help anywhere else in the city.
By the time these women arrived at Sacra’s clinic “only the mothers’ lives could be saved,” Debbie Sacra said.
Thankful for the support, but also a little embarrassed by the all the attention, Sacra and his spouse asked that Americans remember people are struggling with Ebola in Africa too.
“He wants you to share his burden for the people of Liberia and West Africa,” Debbie Sacra said. “Every day and every week that we don’t do what we can to stop Ebola in West Africa, we are risking the possibility that it will not stay in West Africa.”