Local doctor speaks about treating Ebola patients

Dr. Debbie Eisenhut spent past 16 months in West Africa treating Ebola patients

In 16 months, Dr. Debbie Eisenhut cared for up to 60 Ebola-stricken patients at a hospital outside Liberia's capitol, Oct. 1, 2014. (KOIN 6)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A Salem-based surgeon who treated patients in West Africa is now back in the United States but says she’d go back to help again.

“It’s endemic in the community at this point, so you have to be cautious of every contact,” said Dr. Debbie Eisenhut, who describes feeling safe in protective gear to care for up to 60 Ebola-stricken patients during the past 16 months.

Two of her friends, Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, also contracted the virus. They were the first Americans with Ebola, and Eisenhut helped care for them and ensured their survival.

Eisenhut had hugged Writebol, so she said she had to stay in isolation at the hospital she worked at outside Liberia’s capital even after it was evacuated.

She never did get sick, but the virus has killed 3,300 people in West Africa.

On Wednesday, Oregon’s Health Authority assured people the infection risk in Portland is low.

“We have experience, this is the kind of thing that luckily we don’t do every day, but we are prepared to act and have done so in the past,” said Dr. Katrina Hedberg.

Ebola has also shut down all of Liberia’s major hospitals, making care for other ailments impossible, only adding to the disaster.

“You can imagine a major metropolitan area of 1.5 million people and no hospitals,” said Eisenhut. “So, that’s a hidden tragedy the press isn’t talking about.”

Yet with Ebola out of control, Eisenhut worked 12-hour shifts and was often in protective gear for a third of that when she got word of the first Ebola case in June. She started treating patients and teaching staff to try and save lives.

“There are more survivors being discharged from the unit at this point,” she said.

Before Eisenhut left, at least three patients had recovered at her Liberia hospital.

While in the US, she plans to give education talks, including one at Salem’s Corban University on Oct. 13.