Charlotte Resident Who Survived Ebola Shares Story

Sep 3, 2014

Nancy and David Writebol speak to reporters in Charlotte.
Credit Michael Tomsic

A Charlotte resident who survived Ebola prayed, cried and laughed with her husband Wednesday as they shared stories of what they've gone through the last six weeks. It was the first time Nancy Writebol spoke publicly about her battle with the virus that's killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa.

Earlier this summer, Writebol helped doctors and nurses get dressed and take other precautions before they entered the Ebola unit of a hospital in Liberia.

"It was a great privilege to make sure that they were safe, and then when they came out, to decontaminate them and make sure that those suits were coming off properly," she said.

Writebol and her husband David were missionaries with the Christian group SIM. It's based in Charlotte and helps run the hospital in Liberia.

"We didn't ask for this assignment," David said. "We didn't choose it. It was given to us, and so we recognized and saw God in it."

He stood with his arm around his wife's back as they shared their story with reporters Wednesday at SIM's headquarters in south Charlotte.

Nancy remembers thinking on July 22nd that she had malaria.

"I've had malaria one time since being in Liberia, and so I knew what that felt like and it just seemed like malaria," she said.

But medication for malaria didn't help, so doctors eventually tested for Ebola. Writebol teared up as she recounted how her husband broke the news to her.

"As I got up out of bed, David came towards me to give me a hug and to put his arms around me," she said, "and I know how dangerous that was, and so I said no - just, no."

In early August, she flew to Emory Hospital in Atlanta. Writebol was so weak at the time that doctors had to put her on a baggage conveyer belt to get her on the airplane.

The doctors in Atlanta worried that even if Writebol recovered, she may not be able to walk. But her condition gradually improved, and she says an experimental drug she received called ZMapp deserves some credit.

"The question is usually asked: What do you think saved you?" she said. "Was it the ZMapp drug? Was it the supportive care? Or was it your faith? And my answer to that question is all of the above."

David said however it happened: "I am so very thankful that this beautiful woman is still with me. She is the best part of my life."

The Writebols did not say whether they plan to return to Liberia – just that they plan to rest for now. They and SIM President Bruce Johnson prayed together after they shared their story.

Johnson then took a moment to compose himself before giving an update on another missionary who is just beginning a battle with Ebola, veteran SIM Doctor Rick Sacra, who tested positive for Ebola on Monday.

"Many of those who are caring for Rick are those that he has taught and mentored in medical practice," Johnson said.

SIM's director in Liberia, Will Elphick, said the hospital recently turned a laundry room and kitchen into another isolation unit - and even that unit is overcrowded.

"The second isolation unit was going to be 25 beds," he said. "Well, we have 43 patients there," including Dr. Sacra.