MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: surviving Ebola.
In 2014, the Ebola virus swept through Western Africa, and it killed thousands of people. Audio here from an October 2014 report by The New York Times:
NEW YORK TIMES: [Sirens, “suspected case in the city”, angry mobs, “stay away from the dead body”]
REICHARD: In Liberia, two Americans became infected while providing medical care to those stricken with Ebola. Their infections turned a global spotlight on the epidemic and the need for better medicines.
WORLD Correspondent Amy Lewis met one of the American survivors in Indonesia and brings us more of the story.
AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: It’s the summer of 2014.
WRITEBOL: We’re in the midst of the Ebola crisis.
Nancy Writebol is holding a small metal tank and a spraying wand. It looks like an herbicide sprayer, but she’s using it to sanitize the suits and gloves of doctors and nurses.
WRITEBOL: The mortality rate was 99 percent.
Writebol and her husband Dave are SIM—or “Serving in Mission”—missionaries.
To her knowledge, Writebol was never in direct contact with an Ebola patient. So she never expected that she would soon be a patient herself—or that God would use her rare survival to one day help other survivors heal from their trauma.
The date of July 26th, 2014 is emblazoned in Writebol’s mind because that’s when she went from helping dozens of victims to becoming one herself.
WRITEBOL: When we were diagnosed with Ebola there was no medication, just basic care.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Within 8-10 days, those infected by the Ebola virus may experience symptoms drastically ranging in severity. From fevers to diarrhea and vomiting, to internal and external bleeding, often from the eyes.
Her co-worker Dr. Kent Brantly was also diagnosed. Workers isolated Writebol and Brantly and told them that evacuation to the U.S. was impossible. Nobody wanted to get that close to an Ebola victim. They just had to wait it out and pray they would be some of the few who survived.
Then, a new opportunity. It was a desperate gamble.
WRITEBOL: The short story is that there was an experimental drug that had never been tried on humans. And there were seven courses of it in the world. One of the courses was in Sierra Leone. And the decision was made to bring it to Liberia.
Writebol still has the bottles from her dose of the drug. It says “not for human consumption” on the front. She and Brantly got evacuated to the United States where they started getting better.
While they recovered, Ebola continued to ravage its way across West Africa.
Jeremiah Kollie is a pastor and trauma healing counselor in Liberia. He says Liberia had already endured decades with a coup, riots, and a civil war—there was no time to recover in between.
JEREMIAH KOLLIE: And then the war came to an end in 2014. And people started to regain control of their lives, putting it back together. Then came this enemy we all face—Ebola.
By the end of the outbreak, more than 11,000 people in West Africa died of Ebola.
It compounded the trauma they’d already experienced.
Back in the U.S., Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly spent weeks in isolation. They talked on the phone. She wondered why she was spared when so many others didn’t make it.
WRITEBOL: And I remember saying to Kent, “Kent, I get it for you. God's gonna really use this in your life. You're this brilliant young doctor.” But I said, “I don't get it for me. And I don't know how God is going to use it. And, and yet, I trust him.”
Part of the answer came just a few months after her recovery. SIM asked Writebol to go back to Liberia, where the epidemic was waning. They wanted her to help people heal—not from Ebola this time, but from trauma. And she went. She worked with Jeremiah Kollie, using a curriculum that emphasizes more than just mental health.
KOLLIE: But we are doing it because we believe part of the problem is when people don't know God, they will not know how to forgive. When people don't know God, they will not know how to handle their situation. God's word, do speak to the hearts of people.
In 2019, Writebol was invited to do trauma healing clinics in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the height of their Ebola outbreak.
WRITEBOL: I first told the Lord, no, I wasn't going to do that. And I just didn't want to face Ebola again.
But God started changing her heart. When she told her husband Dave about the request, she thought for sure he would say she shouldn’t go.
WRITEBOL: But instead, it was like the Lord had already been working in his heart, how can you not go and minister to those who have experienced what you've gone through?
The Writebols have recently moved to Asia to start trauma healing counseling there. During one session, Writebol watched as one woman wrote her difficult experiences on a piece of paper and place it in a bucket of water at the base of a cross.
WRITEBOL: And as the paper dissolved, it was like her pain, the Lord had just taken the pain, and given her a new look, as to what he was going to do in her life. It was the exact day, July 26, of when I had been diagnosed with Ebola.
Writebol’s gratitude to God goes beyond being healed from Ebola nine years ago.
WRITEBOL: One of the purposes in God's bringing suffering into our lives is so that we will be able to comfort others who also suffer and for our own faith to grow. And so we say ‘To God be the glory for what he's done.’
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis in Jakarta, Indonesia.
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