Emory doctors reunite with Ebola patients 5 years after treatment

ATLANTA — It's has been five years since the first Ebola patient in the United States arrived for treatment at Emory University Hospital.

In total, four Ebola patients were treated at Emory and survived.

Two of those survivors returned to Emory on Friday to thank those who risked their lives to save the survivors' lives.

[READ: Grady paramedics describe transporting Ebola patients]

Dr. Kent Brantly was the first patient to arrive at Emory in August 2014.

NewsChopper 2 followed the ambulance and motorcade that day as Brantly arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County and was whisked to Emory University Hospital.

When he arrived at the hospital, he was in a protective suit and escorted into a special unit at Emory, where he remained for several weeks for treatment.


Friday, he walked back into the hospital, along with former Ebola patient Nancy Writebol, with hugs for doctors, nurses, even security personnel, who took care of them five years ago.
Brantly thanked the entire team "who said yes to us."

“People have asked me if it’s traumatic to remember my experience here and it’s not for me,” said Brantly. “I really have feelings of nostalgia from my time at that unit because after the first three or four days here, when I kind of turned the corner, this was a place and a time when I knew everything was going to be OK.”

[READ: Ebola patients released from Emory University Hospital]

In 2014, Brantly went to Liberia on a two-year term with Samaritan’s Purse and said when he arrived, the virus had not affected many people. But as time went on, Brantly said more and more people started to show symptoms of the virus and he eventually contracted the disease.

He would spend more than a month at Emory University Hospital, eventually overcoming the disease.

Shortly after, Writebol was brought to Emory, after contracting the disease as she served as a missionary in Liberia.

In an interview shortly after her release, Writebol remembered the time in isolation.

“It’s a really lonely place to be when you’re not able to be with the people that you love, to be able to touch your husband, or to be able to reach out to your children, even,” said Writebol.

[READ: Husband says Ebola patient sounds stronger every day]

Both toured the communicable disease unit at Emory on Friday and even saw the rooms where they had stayed.

“Just amazing. I feel grateful,” Brantly told everyone as he walked through the unit.

The anniversary of bringing the first Ebola patients to U.S. soil comes just as another outbreak is hitting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, triggering a new global health emergency.

That’s the reason a third patient from five years ago couldn’t join Brantly and Writebol in Atlanta Friday.

[READ: CDC calls for more urgent response to Ebola outbreak]

Dr. Ian Crozier was urgently redeployed to the Congo by the World Health Organization, using what health officials learned five years ago to fight Ebola now.

Both patients at Emory say the care there was in a different world from that in Africa and it wasn’t just the physical care they received, but the emotional care that helped them get through everything.

“How can you measure that? Was so great here,” Writebol said.

They arrived not knowing if they’d live or die, and left as survivors.

[READ: Ebola survivor speaks at Emory nursing convocation]

“This was a time and a place when I knew everything was going to be OK. Remembering that time when things were so bad, but knowing things were going to be OK,” Brantly said.

Writebol returned to Liberia after recovering from the disease. She said Friday she has been working as a trauma healing counselor to help Ebola survivors. She is planning to head to the Congo this fall.

Brantly, who was accompanied Friday by his wife and their two young children, also discussed his plans — returning to Africa, specifically Mukinge Mission Hospital, a 200-bed facility with three doctors, located in Zambia, about 1,000 miles away from the current Ebola outbreak.

In recent years, Brantly has been living in Texas and teaching in the residency program at John Peter Smith Hospital, which serves Fort Worth’s poorest residents. He and his wife wrote the book, “Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us Into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.