The Ebola Crisis: Concern, But Also Acts of Kindness and Courage
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As the news of Thomas Duncan’s death — the first and first fatal case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States — sinks in, I am struck by the words in the New York Times announcing this tragic and disturbing turn of events:
Mr. Duncan had been a driver at a cargo company in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, living alone in a small room he rented from the parents of Marthalene Williams, 19. A simple act of kindness probably exposed him to the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa. In Monrovia, neighbors and Ms. Williams’s parents said Mr. Duncan helped the family take Ms. Williams to and from a hospital on Sept. 15, shortly before she died of Ebola. Some of the men and women who had direct contact with Ms. Williams, and who were also in contact with Mr. Duncan, have also died, including Ms. Williams’s brother, Sonny Boy Williams, 21.
I am “struck” because I think immediately of the acts of kindness — acts of courage and humanity — that our troops, deployed and yet-to- be-deployed to West Africa, are beginning to make in the fight against this deadly virus.
Yes, the American people have been assured — up to a point — that that our troops (4,000 of them) to be deployed to West Africa to help with the Ebola crisis “will receive the best equipment and training beforehand, be monitored on the ground and be screened before they go home.”
Yes, we have been promised, as we deploy “America’s sons and daughters,” that the Department of Defense will do everything in its]power “to address and mitigate any potential risk to our service members and civilian employees and their families…”
“Up to a point,” because we all know of the serious risks involved and we are all aware of the “possibilities,” remote as they may be.
Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, during a more recent press briefing touched on just such a “possibility”:
On the second point, if somebody does contract Ebola and becomes symptomatic, they will be handled in — just like you’ve seen on the recent ones who came back on an aircraft that was specially designed to bring them back, and they’ll go back to one of the centers that is specially designed to handle the Ebola patients right now.
But how do our men and women who will be exposed to such risks react?
Here are a couple of reactions:
Air Force Capt. Brian Shea, an aircraft commander who will be flying missions into West Africa says, “We’re super-excited to get down there and help as much as we can…We’re not expecting to have any issues going into the theater. We’ve been briefed and trained on how to handle any medical concerns if need be.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Byrne, a flying crew chief at the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron echoes, “I’m proud to be part of a mission like this…I’m ready to get down there and do some good things.”
These crew members will be flying in and out of the danger zone and will be on the ground in Liberia for only a few hours at a time.
U.S. airmen load cargo onto the ramp of a C-130-J Super Hercules aircraft on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 7, 2014, to prepare for a mission to help contain the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. U.S. Africa Command is supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Operation United Assistance, a comprehensive U.S. government effort to contain the outbreak. McDevitt is a loadmaster assigned to the 37th Airlift Squadron.DOD Photo.
I am pretty sure, however, that we would get similar reactions from those men and women who will be building field hospitals, training health care workers and from those personnel working in labs — such as U.S. Navy Lt. Jose Garcia (Lead photo) — who, we are assured, will not be “interacting with patients, only samples.”
We thank our military men and women who are deploying to West Africa and wish them well.
Lead photo: U.S. Navy Lt. Jose Garcia inactivates the Ebola virus in each specimen in a process that renders the virus safe for further analysis at a Naval Medical Research Center mobile laboratory at Bushrod Island, Liberia, Oct. 6, 2014. The center sent two mobile testing labs to Liberia to support Operation United Assistance. Each two-person lab is capable of testing up to 80 samples per day. Photo DOD.