Missionary with Ebola being treated at Atlanta hospital

SIM volunteer praying for Nancy Writebol
Published: Aug. 6, 2014 at 2:48 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2014 at 3:54 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Charlotte-based missionary who contracted Ebola while serving in Liberia is now being treated for the deadly disease in a hospital in the United States.

Nancy Writebol, a Charlotte native, arrived in Atlanta Tuesday morning just before 11:30 a.m.

Writebol was taken to Emory Hospital, in Atlanta, for treatment and arrived at the hospital around 1:10 p.m.

"This special isolation unit was previously developed to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases," an official from Emory University Hospital said. "It is physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation."

According to Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, Nancy is "settling in" at the hospital.

Johnson said he had a phone conversation with Writebol's husband.

"Nancy is still very, very weak, but shows continued, but slow improvement," Johnson said. "She is showing signs of progress and moving in the right direction."

"Nancy had yogurt before getting on the plane," Johnson continued. "When she was put aboard the aircraft about 1 a.m. Monrovia time today, they took her there on a stretcher, but she could stand up and walk with assistance onto the plane."

Over the weekend, Writebol's colleague, Dr. Kent Brantly, was taken to Emory Hospital as well.

Kent Brantly's wife, Amber, released a statement on Tuesday. "I have been able to see Kent every day, and he continues to improve. I am thankful for the professionalism and kindness of Dr. Ribner and his team at Emory University Hospital. I know that Kent is receiving the very best medical treatment available," Amber said.

She added, "I am also thrilled to see that Nancy arrived safely in Atlanta today. Our families are united in our faith in Jesus, and we will walk through this recovery time together. Please continue to pray for Kent, Nancy and the people of Liberia."

The pair were serving in the same group in Liberia helping to fight the spread of the disease.

Writebol serves with SIM International, while Dr. Brantly is based with Samaritan's Purse.

WBTV spoke with Writebol's son Jeremy, who says he is being "cautiously optimistic" about his mother's condition.

"We're trying to be cautious in our hearts about how mom's condition will be, we don't know exactly if she'll be able to walk off like Dr. Brantly did or not, but we're eager for her," Writebol said.

Writebol says they are encouraged by the care his mother will soon have access to.

"We were told early in the week that this wasn't even an option, so it was a surprise for us," Writebol said.

WBTV also sat down with Writebol's pastor at Calvary Church in Charlotte, Dr. John Munro.

"She's holding her own, there are some good indicators, but I want to stress that she's still very ill and very weak and we are encouraged that her condition hasn't worsened over the last two or three days," Munro said.

Since they received the news, Munro and his congregation have been on their knees, praying for Writebol's healing. Munro says he's heard some positive signs from Nancy's husband David.

"She smiles at her husband, is able to get up sometimes by herself, go to the restroom," Munro said.

Munro understands there has been criticism of the decision to bring her home, but he says his friend would never put others at risk.

"The Writebol's would be the last people that would put someone in jeopardy. They rely on the best medical advice. If there were any possibility that through Nancy this virus would spread, she certainly would not come home," Munro said.

"Emory University Hospital physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient. The standard, rigorous infection control procedures used at Emory protect the patient, Emory health care workers, and the general public," officials said. "As the CDC says, Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public."

On Tuesday, officials released a statement that included some words from David Writebol.

"Nancy and I are profoundly grateful to the U.S. government and all the machinery that was marshalled on our behalf and what it took to get her home," Writebol said. "I am very happy.  And I am extremely grateful. I am not anxious, fretful or fearful – just relieved."

"A week ago we were thinking about making funeral arrangements for Nancy," Writebol continued, "Now we have a real reason to be hopeful."

Writebol also talked about the care his wife received in Liberia. "The degree of care for Nancy in Liberia was extraordinary," he said. "It's not like having a nurse come in every hour to fluff up your pillow. It's more like going into a nuclear reactor. The suits are clumsy, hot and uncomfortable.  But it was like watching the love of Christ take place right before your eyes."

It's hard to imagine what David Writebol must be going through as he watches his wife battle this virus, but Munro says somehow, he has stayed positive.

"David mentioned that when they knew the experimental serum was being flown to Liberia, he asked if he could also get some coffee, because they had run out of coffee at the compound," Munro said.

The experimental serum, now known as Z-Mapp, has never before been used on humans. Within an hour of getting the serum, Brantly's condition is said to have improved dramatically.

Munro says his congregation is constantly praying for Writebol's healing.

"The church wants to know, this is very personal to us. We realize this has attracted a lot of media attention, but these are people that we love that we care for, these are truly our brothers and sisters," Munro said.

David Writebol is expected to arrive separately in the United States, not long after his wife.

On Tuesday WBTV sat down with Joan Rynders, who spent time on the ELWA campus in Liberia a year and a half ago. "It's a beautiful campus," Rynders said. "It's right on the Atlantic Ocean and the people are wonderful."

But she knows the scenery is different now.

Friends there tell her because of the Ebola outbreak, everyone is on edge and extra careful.

"I know [a friend] has a pail of Clorox by the door, so that people can wash before they come in if they have company," Rynders said.

Although she never knew Nancy Writebol, Rynders was eagerly awaiting the news that she arrived safely. Rynders admires the Writebol's commitment to their calling.

"I think the lord is using this as a testimony," Rynders said.

And as the world waits for any developments from the Isolation wing at Emory Hospital, Rydner says she will continue to pray for a woman she's never met, from her home in Matthews.

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