American doctor who survived Ebola returns to Liberia

American Ebola Doctor returns to Liberia
American Ebola Doctor returns to Liberia

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    American Ebola Doctor returns to Liberia

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American Ebola Doctor returns to Liberia 02:21

Story highlights

  • American Dr. Rick Sacra was medevaced back to the U.S. sick with Ebola
  • He got sick while treating patients in Liberia
  • He is heading back to continue his work in a medical facility there

(CNN)The last time Dr. Rick Sacra went to Liberia, he returned home to the United States in a medevac airplane, not sure if he would die of the Ebola he'd contracted while taking care of patients.

But Sacra recovered from the virus he contracted in August and Thursday he is headed back to Liberia.
He calls the West African nation his "second home." He lived there from 1995 to 2010 and has made about a dozen trips since then. But he said this time he'll have a different perspective.
    "Having spent three days in the treatment unit in Liberia, I really feel for those who are sick," Sacra said from his home in Holden, Massachusetts.
    The third American to contract Ebola, Sacra remembers the "spartan" Liberian hospital with the uncomfortably thin mattress and the ever-present strong smell of bleach. Because doctors and nurses had to suit up in protective care, they only came around to see patients every three hours, so if he needed something he had to wait.
    "You spend a lot of time alone and lonely," he said.
    Sacra said he hopes this makes him a better doctor.
    "I think it makes me more sensitive to where people are coming from and how they might be feeling and why they might be discouraged," he said.
    Sacra was evacuated from Liberia to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, one of four hospitals in the United States with a biocontainment unit, where he received a blood transfusion from Dr. Kent Brantly, another American Ebola survivor, and the experimental drug TKM-Ebola.
    "I never felt like I was not going to make it," he said when he was released from the hospital on September 25.
    This upcoming trip will be easier than his August trip in one big way: He won't have to worry about contracting Ebola, because he's now immune to the strain of the disease responsible for the current epidemic. But it will be more difficult in another way: He knows many of his friends in Liberia lost family members and colleagues to Ebola this fall, and he won't be able to comfort them with a hug, because hugging, or even shaking hands, is forbidden in order to cut down on the spread of the disease.
    He said now that the number of Ebola patients in Liberia has gone down dramatically, he's not needed to work in the Ebola ward. Instead, he'll be involved in evaluating and triaging patients who come into the ELWA Hospital, run by SIM, a Christian missionary group.
    He hopes to return to his regular schedule of working four weeks in Liberia every three months. He said he misses the food -- potato greens, palm butter and peanut soup -- and he misses his friends and colleagues. He also hopes his trip reminds the rest of the world that Ebola, and many other diseases, are still a huge threat in West Africa.
    "The needs in Liberia are still tremendous," he said. "Even before Ebola the health care system was very weak and barely functioning. I just feel that God has opened the door for me to make a difference. I was to continue doing that if I can."