Ebola doctor now ‘fully recovered’

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Norway’s first and, so far, only ebola patient made a surprise appearance at a press conference in Oslo Monday afternoon, after being released not only from the high-isolation ward where she’d been recovering from the deadly virus but also from the hospital itself. Doctors at Oslo University Hospital Ullevål declared her “completely healthy,” but she had a serious message to deliver.

Dr Silje Lehne Michalsen appeal has made a full recovery from ebola and urged the world to do much, much more to help ebola victims in West Africa. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried her first, and apparently only, public appearance live on national TV Monday evening. PHOTO: NRK

Dr Silje Lehne Michalsen has made a full recovery from ebola and urged the world to do much, much more to help ebola victims in West Africa. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried her first, and apparently only, public appearance live on national TV Monday evening. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

The Oslo hospital had confirmed earlier in the day that their ebola patient had been released from the high isolation unit. Then her recovery was made clear to everyone when she joined a press conference arranged by the hospital and the medical humanitarian organization Leger uten grenser.

Norway’s ebola patient was finally identified as Dr Silje Lehne Michalsen, a physician who had been working at the hospital in Harstad in Northern Norway but was among the health care workers around the world who have traveled to West Africa to battle ebola and try to save the lives of thousands of patients who have been infected. She said she left Norway on June 2 for her first assignment for Leger uten grenser (the Norwegian chapter of Medecins Sans Frontiereres) to work at a hospital in Bo in Sierra Leone.

She was supposed to help treat patients for lassafeber, which she called the “unknown, forgotten, and not quite as dangerous cousin of ebola.” Instead the first case of ebola in Sierra Leone was discovered just days before she arrived, and it spread quickly. “My job at the hospital became gradually more and more ebola-related,” Michalsen said in a prepared statement. “We built a new ebola center in Bo, and I worked there the last two two weeks before I became sick.”

Leger uten grensen (Doctors without borders) released this photo on Monday of their colleague Dr Silje Lehne Michalsen before she became ill, while working in Sierra Leone. The little girl in the photo had tested negative for ebola. PHOTO: Leger uten grenser

Leger uten grensen (Doctors without borders) released this photo on Monday of their colleague Dr Silje Lehne Michalsen before she became ill, while working in Sierra Leone. The little girl in the photo had tested negative for ebola. PHOTO: Leger uten grenser

Michalsen was diagnosed with ebola herself on October 5 and flown home to Norway in a special air ambulance on October 7. Since then, doctors at Oslo University Hospital Ullevål, backed by infectious disease specialists from around the country, have worked to save her life and succeeded.

Many of Michalsen’s doctors and hospital administrators were at the press conference, too, clearly relieved and proud their efforts weren’t in vain, and watching Michalsen as she read her statement. They remained reluctant, however, to describe her treatment in detail, because they claimed they needed to carefully go through it first themselves before going public with it. They did confirm once again that they “had access to experimental drugs.” Some of the ebola drugs have been used with success elsewhere in the world, others not.

Michalsen, age 30, expressed “incredible gratitude” for the quick and extensive response to her first symptoms of ebola (fever) and for the treatment she received at Ullevål in Oslo. “I am healthy and no longer contagious,” she said. “I feel very lucky, and it really doesn’t feel like I’ve had ebola. Those who have been and are infected with ebola in Africa have had, and have, an entirely different experience than me.”

Anxiety and frustration
That’s when her message turned extremely serious, when she talked about what it was like see ebola patients suffer and die. “Having ebola in Africa is more than having symptoms,” she said.  “It’s about losing sister, fathers and neighbours. To be six years old and admitted to a place where you don’t know anyone. To have your family stigmatized. To be isolated in hot, overfilled tents, with hard beds and dead bodies in the next bed. And they’re lucky to even get a bed.”

Michalsen spoke of her anxiety and frustration as she watched more and more people get sick, with “almost a complete lack of international response.” She said she and her colleagues felt helpless as the numbers of infected persons continued to rise.

“Today there’s beginning to be talk of treatment and hands and not just words and money,” she said. “That’s good, but it’s also about time.” She said she was glad to see that so many volunteers, also in Norway, are now ready to head for West Africa. “”I am very glad that you aren’t scared that I was infected. To you all, I say ‘thousand thanks and good luck’.”

Wants to head back to West Africa ‘as soon as possible’
She also thanked the media for respecting her initial desire for anonymity, but made it clear she wants no more attention after Monday’s appearance at the press conference. “My first assignment (in West Africa) didn’t turn out as I had thought,” she said. “But I hope to head back to the field as soon as possible.” Then she left without taking any questions.

There weren’t many, but others on the panel responded, with the head of Leger uten grenser noting how demanding it was for Norway, with the best medical equipment available, to treat just one patient back to good health.

“We need more people like Silje,” said Anne-Cecilie Kaltenborn of the doctors’ humanitarian group that has won a Nobel Peace Prize. “We are very proud of her.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund