NEW: President Obama gives a big hug to Nina Pham in the Oval Office
Pham will be able to hold her dog, Bentley, though he remains quarantined
Pham says "it may be awhile before I have my strength back"
The nurse contracted the Ebola virus after treating a patient in Dallas
Nina Pham was the first person to catch Ebola on U.S. soil, and now, 13 days after testing positive, she has been declared free of the deadly disease.
Her first order of business will be to hug her dog, Bentley, she said Friday.
She invoked God and science in expressing gratitude for her ongoing recovery from a disease that has no established cure.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today,” she said. “Throughout this ordeal, I have put my faith in God and my medical team.”
Later Friday, President Barack Obama met Pham in the Oval Office and gave her a big hug.
Prayer sustained her, and she thanked people around the world who prayed for her, Pham told reporters Friday at a National Institutes of Health hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.
The nation saw a cheerful and composed Pham, dressed in a bright turquoise top and matching necklace, when she strode to a bank of microphones moments after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said she was free of the virus.
She thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick.
But she’s not entirely out of the woods, she said.
“Although I no longer have Ebola, I know that it may be awhile before I have my strength back,” Pham said. “So with gratitude and respect for everyone’s concern, I ask for my privacy and for my family’s privacy to be respected as I return to Texas and try to get back to a normal life and reunite with my dog, Bentley.”
Bentley, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, remains in quarantine until the end of the month in Texas, but Pham “will be able to visit, hold and play with him tomorrow,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Friday.
“I know that will be good for both of them,” said Jenkins, who oversees the Ebola response in Dallas.
A ‘stressful and challenging’ time
Pham, 26, who grew up in a Vietnamese family in Fort Worth, Texas, graduated with a nursing degree in 2010 and just months ago received a certification in critical care nursing, which deals with life-threatening problems.
The Ebola experience, she said, was a “very stressful and challenging” time for her.
Without direct reference to the continent, she alluded to how Ebola has ravaged West Africa in an unprecedented outbreak that the World Health Organization says has caused almost 10,000 confirmed or probable cases of infection and 4,877 deaths as of this week.
“I am on my way back to recovery even as I reflect on how many others have not been so fortunate,” she said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest called Pham’s case “a pretty apt reminder that we do have the best medical infrastructure in the world.”
“The track record of treating Ebola patients in this country is very strong, particularly for those who are quickly diagnosed,” Earnest said. “The fact that she has been treated and released I think is terrific news.”
The first to catch virus on U.S. soil
Pham was among the doctors and nurses in Dallas who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. His diagnosis came after he returned from a trip to West Africa, and he died on October 8.
Three days later, Pham tested positive for the Ebola virus, becoming the first person in the United States to contract Ebola on American soil. That sent waves of anxiety through the network of health care workers – and beyond.
Those anxieties deepened on October 15 when a second nurse in Dallas, Amber Vinson, tested positive for Ebola. Vinson had flown from Dallas to Cleveland and back, prompting an airline to warn passengers on both legs of her trip as well as passengers who took subsequent flights on an aircraft she used. Some schools closed. Health departments monitored dozens of people.
None of them has tested positive for Ebola.
Pham said Friday that her thoughts are with Vinson, who is getting treatment for Ebola at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.
Vinson is steadily regaining her strength, and her spirits are high, her family has said. Doctors can no longer detect the virus in her body, but they have not yet determined when she will be discharged, the hospital in Atlanta said Friday.
CNN’s Jason Hanna contributed to this report.