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Experimental drug fails to save doctor from Ebola

On December 8, 2014
Martin Salia

Salia died last week and is survived by a wife and two children living in Maryland.
Credit: United Brethren in Christ

( – One of the promising new drugs being tested against the deadly Ebola virus failed last week to save a surgeon from Sierra Leone, flown in for treatment at a Nebraska hospital.

Dr. Martin Salia, a permanent U.S. resident, died last week, according to the hospital. He arrived in Omaha Saturday, Nov. 20, having left Freetown on Friday by air ambulance. He was immediately transported to Nebraska medical center, in critical condition.

“It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share this news,” Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the Biocontainment Unit at Nebraska medical center said in a statement last Monday. “Despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to save him.”

Salia, 44, was not able to walk off the plane, as other patients brought to the U.S. have been able to do. Instead, he was taken off the plane in an isopod, a special device designed to keep contagion from spreading. He was placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. His wife reportedly agreed to reimburse the U.S. government for the expense of his medical evacuation – about $100,000 – according to MailOnline, a U.K. media outlet.

He was suffering from kidney and respiratory failure and was placed on dialysis, a ventilator and multiple medications to support his organ system. He was also given a dose of convalescent plasma and ZMapp therapy.

Salia was the chief medical officer and surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital, which is not an Ebola treatment center, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, when he fell ill.

Salia initially tested negative for the disease in Freetown, leading him to believe he suffered from malaria. His colleagues embraced him, celebrating the good news that he’d not acquired Ebola. He ultimately tested positive for the virus on Nov. 10. The hospital has since been closed and three of his colleagues are in isolation over Ebola fears.

Reached in Omaha by the Washington Post, Salia’s wife, Isatu, said through tears: “We are in so much pain and grieving. He was a wonderful father and husband. We are a family in a lot of pain.”

Isatu Salia thanked the hospital’s staff for trying to save her husband’s life.

Nebraska Medical Center has one of four U.S. special biomedical facilities, born in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, actually designed to protect against bioterrorism. The others are Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montanta, and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Ebola has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

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