On Ebola's front line, doctor finds grief and inspiration

Mon Aug 11, 2014 1:11pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON Aug 11 (Reuters) - After a month on the front line battling Ebola in a hospital in Sierra Leone, the memories that both haunt and inspire British doctor Tim O'Dempsey are of the children.

Many memories of children dying in isolation wards while their parents wailed outside. And one of a small girl who fought her way out of a coma and was reunited with her father.

"Seeing a mother come in with a little baby, and within a few days the baby die - it's very difficult," he told Reuters. "What you do is just get on with it. There are lots and lots of patients that need to be attended to. Occasionally, entire families would be admitted. You can't stop."

O'Dempsey, a doctor with three decades' experience studying and fighting tropical diseases, was seconded to Sierra Leone by the World Health Organization to help battle the biggest outbreak of the deadly hemorrhagic fever in history.

He ended up as part of a team of between two and four doctors, plus a handful of nurses, caring for 40-60 patients a day with one of the most lethal known diseases.

Kenema hospital's three Ebola wards - one for suspected cases, the other two for confirmed infections - had barely 10 or 12 beds each, so patients lay on mattresses on the floors and in the corridors.

Many of the staff themselves became ill, and many died, including the head nurse on the Ebola wards, Mballu Fonnie, and the doctor in charge of the unit, Sheik Umar Khan - declared a national hero by the government when he passed away last month at 39 after treating more than 100 Ebola sufferers.

Amid the misery, it was the small triumphs that made the work worth doing, like that of a girl aged around six or seven.   Continued...

Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) put on their protective gear before entering an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun July 20, 2014.   REUTERS/Tommy Trenchard