ATLANTA - The second U.S. patient to contract the deadly Ebola virus is now in the care of doctors at Emory University Hospital.
After a long flight from the west African country of Liberia, Nancy Writebol landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County just before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and was quickly transferred to Emory University Hospital for treatment.
From NewsChopper 2, Writebol could be seen being taken out of the ambulance on a stretcher and was dressed in a special suit so she wouldn’t spread the virus.
There, Writebol will join Dr. Kent Brantly in an isolated area of the hospital to be treated for the deadly virus.
Writebol and Brantly were both working for SIM, an international Christian organization that has been in Liberia working with those affected by the Ebola outbreak.
SIM USA president Bruce Johnson spoke at a news conference Tuesday afternoon to give an update on Writebol’s condition.
Johnson said he spoke to Writebol’s husband David earlier in the day who said Nancy had shown signs of improvement before leaving Liberia.
"Nancy is still very weak. She shows signs of continued improvement. She's showing signs of progress and is moving in the right direction. And Nancy had yogurt before she got on the airplane," Johnson said, talking about his conversation with David Writebol.
Johnson said Writebol was taken to a specially equipped plane that flew to Liberia from Cartersville. He said Nancy was taken to the plane on stretcher, but was able to stand up with assistance to get on the plane.
From there Writebol was flown to the United States making a brief stop in Maine just after 8 a.m. and eventually landed just before 11:30 a.m. at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Family members told Johnson that they are encouraged now that Writebol is back on U.S. soil.
"We still have a long ways to go, but we have hope," David Writebol told Johnson. “A week ago we were thinking about possible funeral arrangements, yet we kept our faith. Now we have a real reason to be hopeful. I would have gone over the edge if I hadn't been able to communicate with family and dear friends by phone and over the internet."
Johnson said both SIM and Samaritan’s Purse have spent about $1 million to help pay for Writebol and Brantly’s treatment and transportation back to the United States.
Johnson said Writebol’s two sons are in the Atlanta area and are looking forward to spending time with their mother.
Writebol and Brantly are being kept in isolated rooms and will be able to talk to family members through a glass panel.
Friend of Writebol describes woman's spirit
Karen Elliot knows Writebol from their time together at Rafiki Foundation, a missionary group based in Central Florida. Elliot says Writebol retired from the group in 2012. Elliot says both Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly worked closely with Rafiki. The organization has a village near the hospital where it's believed the Americans became infected.
“Kent has also treated some of our Rafiki children," Elliot said.
Tuesday, the president of SIM, the organization where Writebol currently works, said she is weak but shows signs of improvement. According to her husband, Writebol walked herself onto the specialized plane that brought her to Atlanta, and even managed to eat yogurt before the flight.
“A week ago, he said, we were thinking about possible funeral arrangements yet, we kept the faith,” Bruce Johnson said.
Johnson said it's still unclear exactly how Writebol and Brantly contracted the virus, despite protective protocols in place. Elliot said her former colleague is a selfless person who often put the needs of others before her own.
“Nancy is the kind of person, who will put herself in harm's way, for the sake of others,” Johnson said.
The two patients were infected despite taking precautions as they treated Ebola patients in West Africa, where the virus has been spreading faster than governments can contain it, killing nearly 900 people so far.
The treatment, called ZMapp, was developed with U.S. military funding by a San Diego company, using antibodies harvested from lab animals that had been injected with parts of the Ebola virus. Tobacco plants in Kentucky are being used to make the treatment.
It's impossible to know whether the drug saved these workers, CDC Director Tom Frieden emphasized. "Every medicine has risks and benefits," he said to reporters at a health symposium in Kentucky. "Until we do a study, we don't know if it helps, if it hurts, or if it doesn't make any difference."
If the treatment works, it could create pressure to speed through testing and production to help contain the disease in Africa.
Dozens of African heads of state were meeting with President Barack Obama Tuesday at a summit in Washington. But it could take years before any treatment can be proven to be effective and safe, let alone mass produced.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola, but several are under development, including ZMapp, made by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. It works by boosting the immune system's efforts to fight the virus. The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency announced July 22 that it is providing more funding to speed the drug's development.
Ebola is spread by close contact with blood and other bodily fluids, and Writebol's duties included disinfecting doctors and nurses entering or leaving the Ebola treatment area. The virus is much less deadly when patients get top-flight care, experts say.
The CDC has been criticized for not objecting to the arrival of Ebola victims on U.S. soil, but Frieden has emphasized that there is no threat of an outbreak spreading in the United States.
Police react to possible threat against Writebol
Channel 2 Actions News has learned DeKalb County police were on high alert Tuesday because of threats directed at Nancy Writebol's ride to Emory University Hospital.
Channel 2’s Erica Byfield learned the FBI asked DeKalb County police to get involved.
Byfield said she knew something was going on when about 11 a.m. Tuesday two DeKalb officers pulled up in front of the hospital and in the minutes that followed she saw more officers.
As the caravan with the ambulance caring Writebol weaved its way through the metro, DeKalb County police were nearby.
Police said there were 15 local officers in the motorcade.
It was only after the 58-year-old Ebola patient was inside the Emory hospital we learned there were threats surrounding her ride to the facility.
“I can't get into the specifics of it, and quite frankly I don't know what they were, but here again it was nothing we were overly concerned about,” said DeKalb County Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander.
Alexander told Byfield what he did know is after the FBI and university officials asked his department for assistance they were going to do whatever it took to make sure Writebol got to the hospital safely.
The department’s plan came together in less than 24 hours.
“Since we have an abundance of resources in this county we were able to do a host of things. We did a bomb sweep here and in addition to that we had SWAT personnel assigned to the escort of this patient,” Alexander said.
Police blocked off streets and guarded entrances to the hospital. They also used a helicopter to hover over head.
“We had enough officers on the scene to mitigate any potential threat that might have been,” Alexander said.
Alexander confirmed late Tuesday afternoon the threats appeared to be unsubstantiated.