Dr. Kent Brantly and his wife Amber detail the physician's work on Ebola—and his survival of it
A year after Dr. Kent Brantly captivated the world as the first American with Ebola to be treated in the United States, the medical missionary and his wife Amber have penned a new book, Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us Into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic, which chronicles their experiences as two medical missionaries unexpectedly propelled into a devastating outbreak.
Among the most captivating—and disturbing sections—are the Brantlys’ retelling of when Ebola first crept into West Africa, and Kent’s detailed description of what it felt like when the virus invaded his body. “I also developed a petechial rash: small red spots from my chest out to my arms,” Kent writes, clinically describing the progression of symptoms. “Their appearance meant blood vessels had broken in those areas. Over the next couple of days, the rash would progress until the spots coalesced into generalized, large red erythematous rash from head to toe.”
Though the year of Ebola epidemic news coverage has increased public understanding of the virus, Kent’s narrative reiterates how devastating and serious an Ebola diagnosis was, and still remains. He vividly describes moments of panic when during which he wrapped himself around the ankles of victims’ family member, begging them not to take the contagious bodies of their loved ones home.
While the Brantly family—among a handful of other patients—put a face to the outbreak, the couple dedicate a large portion of the book to describe Ebola’s unseen victims. There was Harris the plumber, who tried to help a woman get her Ebola-infected husband to a hospital, only to catch and die from the disease himself. There was Lusu, a mother who watched both her daughters die before she succumbed herself. The Brantlys also recount some of the factors that contributed to the epidemic’s spread, like the dearth of latex gloves in hospitals. Despite the fact that Liberia is one of the largest producers of raw latex, most of it is exported.
The Brantlys’ story is also emotional, tacking between Kent and Amber’s recollections of the same events: Kent, in Liberia, unsure he can breathe much longer, while a heartbroken Amber prays in the United States that her husband makes it through the night. Those who followed the Brantly family’s story in real-time will remember how often Kent thanked God for his life during his discharge press conference from Emory University Hospital. The book is written in a similar vein, with plenty of references to Bible versus and prayer. Brantly addresses potential critics head-on, writing that he’s never used his medical position to evangelize, and he explains his own occasional struggles to reconcile God with science:
“I know that some consider it controversial for me to claim that God saved my life when I had received an experimental drug and some of the greatest medical care available in the world. I can see how these two realities appear to contradict each other. I also feel the dissonance with claiming God saved my life while thousands of others died. These issues are not clear-cut for me. I wrestle with these tensions… Some may call it a grand coincidence, and I couldn’t argue against them. But when I see the unlikely and highly improbable events that occurred—not only during my illness, but also for decades preceding the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—I see the hand of God at work, and I give him the credit.”
The Brantly family recently returned to Liberia to visit the country they previously called home. In May Liberia was declared Ebola-free, but by July 1 officials announced the country has new cases of the disease. So far, Ebola has infected over 27,690 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, killing over 11,260.