ATLANTA — To evaluate the condition of Kent Brantly, the American physician aid worker who became the first person to be treated for Ebola in the United States, all anyone needed to do Thursday was notice what he was not wearing.
Gone was the bulky white suit he had been put in upon his arrival Aug. 2, amid heavy security, at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. Instead, appearing trim and vibrant and wearing a button-down shirt and slacks, Dr. Brantly stood before reporters as he prepared to leave Emory, after his doctors declared him recovered from the virus he contracted while working in Liberia.
“Today is a miraculous day,” Dr. Brantly, his wife at his side, said in a steady voice that wavered when he thanked his health care team and God. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”
Emory said Thursday that Dr. Brantly, who lived in Fort Worth, Texas, before going to Liberia, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary from Charlotte, N.C., who also contracted Ebola while in Africa this summer, had been released from its specialized isolation unit this week. The hospital, in a statement, said it was “confident that the discharge of these patients poses no public health threat,” and said the decision to release them was linked to the results of urine and blood tests.
Ms. Writebol, who did not appear before reporters, was released Tuesday, but the hospital did not announce her discharge until Thursday morning. Her husband, David Writebol, said in a statement that “the lingering effects of her battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition” that required additional rest without an onslaught of public scrutiny. But he added, “Her departure from the hospital, free of the disease, is powerful testimony to God’s sustaining grace in time of need.”
Emory officials, whose decision to admit Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol prompted questions about whether their arrivals could spread the virus in the United States, on Thursday defended their actions. “We understand that there are a lot of questions and concerns regarding Ebola virus and the infection that it causes,” said Bruce S. Ribner, the Emory infectious diseases specialist who coordinated the treatment of Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol. “However, we cannot let our fears dictate our actions. We must all care.”
Dr. Ribner said it was “the right decision” to evacuate the patients to Emory from Liberia, both because they could receive superior care in the United States and because the lessons learned in treating them could eventually assist doctors treating patients on the front lines. Emory doctors were able, he said, to carefully monitor levels of electrolytes in the patients, as well as any abnormalities in their blood clotting.
It will be difficult, though, to apply such guidance in West Africa. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said in an interview Tuesday that patients in their treatment centers received only a single blood test — a screening for the Ebola virus — between admission and death or recovery. There were no tests for electrolytes or clotting factors, Dr. Liu said, because it is simply too risky to handle the blood of Ebola patients.
Even if electrolytes cannot be easily measured in the emergency field hospitals that dot Africa, Dr. Ribner said, the Emory experience showed the importance of replacing lost electrolytes in patients suffering from Ebola.
At Emory, Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol were held in an isolation ward built 12 years ago after consultation with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has its headquarters near the hospital. Visitor contact was limited — glass separated Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol from family members — and hospital staff members donned specialized gear before interacting with the patients.
Faced with questions of whether Emory was gambling public health to assist the two patients, the hospital and its supporters, including the disease centers director, said there was no risk for the infection to spread.
It remained unclear Thursday whether an experimental drug Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received while still in Africa had aided in their recoveries. “Frankly, we do not know whether it helped them, whether it made no difference or even, theoretically, if it delayed their recovery,” Dr. Ribner said.
But Thursday, Dr. Brantly focused on thanking the five doctors specializing in infectious diseases, the 21 nurses and many other sub-specialists who Emory said were involved in caring for him and Ms. Writebol.
And then, before he hugged his teary-eyed medical team members who stood behind him during his statement, he said, “Above all, I am forever thankful to God for sparing my life, and I’m glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic.”