First two Ebola survivors discharged from Red Cross treatment centre in Sierra Leone

Topics: Africa, Emergencies and Disasters Worldwide
October 02, 2014

Ebola virus survivors discharged from IFRC treatment centre.

Osman Sesay was the second confirmed Ebola patient to arrive at the newly opened treatment centre operated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

When he crossed the threshold of the centre, he was listless and lethargic, with the glazed look of someone infected with the deadly disease. Over the course of two weeks, Osman watched 11 fellow patients being taken for burial in the newly dug cemetery, while he continued to grow stronger. He interacted with staff more, he moved more, he began asking for more food.

Now, after two negative blood tests, Osman is free to leave. He is the first person at the IFRC centre to have survived Ebola. “I don’t know why I survived when others didn’t,” he said. “But I am very happy to be going home.”

The 37-year-old doesn’t know how he became infected. Nor does he remember arriving at the centre, after a five-hour drive from his home in Freetown. What he does remember is being approached by Red Cross staff, wearing their rather imposing-looking protective gear.

Finding pleasure in everyday tasks

“I was scared,” Osman said. “But they treated me well. They talked to me, they gave me medicine, they gave me food. They looked after me and helped me get better.”

After his first shave in weeks, staff gathered around to celebrate his discharge, and were able – for the first time – to greet him without having to wear their protective equipment, able to touch and shake his hand. He is now immune to the highly contagious Zaire strain of Ebola, although researchers do not agree on just how long immunity will last.

As Osman prepared to hop into the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society car for home, he said he hopes to return to the centre in the near future, as a staff member. “I do hope I can come back. They helped me and I would like to help others who are suffering from this bad disease,” he said.

“We have a number of national staff working with us here at the centre, but as we admit more patients, we will definitely need to hire more,” Tiina Saarikoski, who manages the IFRC Ebola treatment centre, said. “Osman knows what it is like to be a patient. He could potentially be a tremendous support to help other patients cope with being isolated from their friends and families.”

Now though, his priority is to make the journey home, even though it is with mixed feelings. “I am happy to be leaving, but my wife and three-month-old twin sons died from Ebola, and of course that makes me sad,” Osman said. “I have one 13-year-old son left. I don’t know if he is healthy or not.”

The smile of a young Ebola survivor Ebola_Survivor1_240x180.jpg

Accompanied by a psychosocial support member of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, Osman is leaving alongside a young girl whom he got to know while at the centre.

The smile on Kadiatu’s face spoke volumes. She will soon be reunited with her mother and eight brothers and sisters. Two weeks ago, she to came into the treatment centre, her body listless with the Ebola virus disease. But the disease was identified early, and treatment started as quickly as possible, and Kadiatu’s tiny, wiry frame was able to fight back.

“She was very flat when she first arrived,” said Lauralee Morris, chief medical officer from the Canadian Red Cross Society. “She was unresponsive and did not have any interest in what was going on around her. It has been a wonderful experience to watch her transform into a healthy young girl.”

As the Ebola virus was slowly driven from the 11-year-old, she began connecting with other patients, forming bonds with the healthier ones, very rarely leaving their side. She would break into fits of giggles when tickled by the Red Cross staff. It didn’t matter that they were separated by two sets of the orange mesh fence that divides the high-risk zone from the low-risk zone.

She gave one last wave to the other patients before walking away from the centre for the final time. In the local Krio language she was asked: “How is the body?”

“Fine,” she replied, and for the first time in weeks, she meant it.

By Katherine Mueller, IFRC. First published on IFRC website.

The Canadian Red Cross has mobilized aid workers specializing in health and disaster response to the region to support response operations in affected communities. Funding is crucial to ensure direct action can be taken to stop the spread of the epidemic.

Canadians who wish to support Red Cross efforts can make a donation to the Canadian Red Cross West Africa Ebola Fund.

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