ATLANTA - A plane carrying the second American Ebola patient has departed Liberia and is on its way to Atlanta.
Nancy Writebol's plane left around 9:30 p.m. EDT. She is expected to land in Atlanta Tuesday.
Channel 2 Action News was there when the plane carrying Dr. Kent Brantly landed at Dobbins Air Force Base and arrived at Emory University Hospital on Saturday.
Brantly could be seen walking out of the ambulance with the help of a healthcare worker. His family said they are pretty optimistic about his recovery.
Brantly remains in isolation at Emory University Hospital. Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston had a chance to talk with his wife.
Hospital officials have said his health is improving and they are optimistic it will continue to improve while they treat him inside a special isolation section of the hospital.
Writebol's son Jeremy talked with Channel 2 Action News about how she's doing.
"Still fighting, still weak but able to sit up and receive treatment and even eat a little bit and taking fluids," Jeremy Writebol said.
In a statement from Brantly's wife, who has had the chance to see her husband, she said in part, "We are confident that he is receiving the very best care. We are very grateful to the staff at Emory University Hospital, who have been so nice and welcoming to us. I was able to see Kent today. He is in good spirits."
Writebol and her husband, David, had been in Liberia since August 2013, sent there by the Christian organization SIM USA and sponsored by their home congregation at Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"They take the Great Commission literally," said their pastor, the Rev. John Munro, referring to the instruction from Jesus Christ to "make disciples of all nations."
At the hospital where Brantly treated patients, Writebol worked as a hygienist whose role included decontaminating those entering or leaving the Ebola treatment area. Munro said David Writebol fulfilled administrative and technical duties.
A few weeks before she was diagnosed Jeremy Writebol said a doctor visited the Monrovia hospital where she worked and praised the decontamination procedures as the best he'd seen. Jeremy Writebol said she was "really pleased by knowing that" and never thought she would be infected, despite her proximity to the virus.
David and Nancy Writebol have engaged in foreign missions for 15 years, spending five years in Ecuador and nine years in Zambia, where Munro said they worked in a home for widows and orphans.
Patients received experimental treatment
According to CNN, Writebol and Brantly both received vials of an experimental treatment while still in Liberia. Sources familiar with the treatment said the vials were transported to the West African nation last week.
Sources say Brantly woke up feeling feverish on Tuesday, July 22. He immediately isolated himself, fearing he may have contracted the virus. Three days later, Writebol’s symptoms started. A rapid field blood test confirmed they were infected with the Ebola virus.
According to CNN, a representative from the National Institutes of Health contacted Samaritan’s Purse and offered the experimental treatment known as ZMapp. At that time, the treatment had never been tried on humans, just monkeys, but had shown promise, according to sources.
The vials reached the hospital in Liberia on Thursday morning. The frozen vials needed 8-10 hours to thaw naturally before being administered to the patients. Brantly asked that the first dose be given Writebol because he was younger and thought he had a better chance of fighting it. However, while the first vial was still thawing, Brantly took a sudden turn for the worse, according to CNN.
Brantly quickly began to deteriorate. A source told CNN that Brantly told his doctors “I am going to die.” Brantly reportedly asked if he could have Writebol’s now thawed medication. It was taken to his room and administered through an IV, nine days after he initially became sick. Within an hour, his condition had nearly reversed. By the next morning, Brantly was able to shower on his own and then boarded the air ambulance to come back to the United States.
Writebol received her first dose of medication, but the results were not as positive, a source told CNN. On Sunday, she received a second dose and began to improve significantly. She is now stable enough to be transported back to the U.S. and will arrive on Tuesday.
The treatment they were given, ZMapp, is still experimental and has not been approved for human use; however the Defense Threat Reduction Agency gave additional funding the creator of the treatment because of its “promising results.”
Concerns about Ebola in U.S.
Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, also in Atlanta, say they've gotten some blowback for bringing Ebola cases to an American hospital. But Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, emphasized again Sunday that there is no threat to the public in the United States.
"We know how to control it: hospital infection control and stopping it at the source in Africa," Frieden said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Frieden's agency is ramping up its effort to stem Ebola's spread. He promised "50 staff on the ground" in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone "in the next 30 days."
Some airlines that serve those nations have suspended flights, while international groups, including the Peace Corps, have evacuated some or all representatives in the region.
But the Writebols, their pastor predicted, won't be away from the stricken land for any longer than they have to be.
"They knew that Liberia was a tough assignment," he said, comparing their vocation to the Bible's stories of leper colonies.
"Followers of Christ went into those colonies, knowing they would die," Munro said. "I certainly wouldn't judge them if they didn't go back, but I don't think this will deter them."
Channel 2 learned eight other missionaries with Writebol's charity group SIM made the trip back from Liberia on a commercial flight that landed Sunday at Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.
SIM president Bruce Johnson said the two adults and six children then went to Charlotte where the group is based. According to Johnson, none had Ebola symptoms or had contact with an infected person.
“They're healthy, they're strong. It was very encouraging,” Johnson said.
A CDC spokesperson said they are not medically screening or clearing people to fly. If a person were to show signs of illness they would be met at the airport and examined when they arrived.
When Channel 2 asked about the possibility an infected person traveling before showing symptoms during the virus' 21 day incubation period, the spokesperson said it’s possible for someone to be asymptomatic on plane and then get ill here. There have been about a half dozen of those cases, and all have turned out negative for Ebola.