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Fatu Kekula: the Brave Ebola Lifesaver

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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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The rampant spreading of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Liberia, has created a chaos in that country. As on October 18, 2014, out of the 4,665 patients diagnosed for Ebola in Liberia, 2,705 died. In the past week alone Monrovia reported 305 new EVD cases. Out of the 15 counties in Liberia 14 have reported cases of Ebola. Only Grand Gedeh county has yet to report an EVD case.

Even before the outbreak of the Ebola virus, Liberia faced a health crisis. It had only 50 physicians in the entire country – one for every 70,000 citizens. In September 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that some hospitals in Liberia had been abandoned, and the hospitals which were still functioning lacked basic facilities. They did not have running water, rubber gloves, and sanitizing supplies.

At the end of August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that Liberia fell short of 1,550 beds to treat EVD patients. In September, a new 150-bed treatment clinic opened in the capital, Monrovia. At the time of the opening ceremony six ambulances were already waiting with potential Ebola patients. More patients were waiting by the clinic after making their way on foot with the help of relatives.

The treatment of EVD in other parts of the country is more pathetic. To add to the woes, on October 12, 2014, Liberian nurses threatened a strike over wages.

Fatu Kekula, 22-year-old Liberian student nurse (Source: edition.cnn.com)

Fatu Kekula, 22-year-old Liberian student nurse (Source: edition.cnn.com)

Amidst this chaos comes the story of Fatu Kekula, a brave 22-year-old Liberian nursing student.  She took care of four relatives affected by the Ebola virus by herself. She managed to save three out of the four patients, she cared for. That is a whopping 25% death rate, far better than the estimated average Ebola death rate of 58% in Liberia. Now, her unique methods for survival are being taught all over West Africa.

In July 2014, Fatu’s father, Moses Kekula, experienced high blood pressure. She took him to the local hospital in Kakata. After admitting Moses, the crowded hospital provided a bed that had become free. At that time, none of Fatu’s family members knew that the previous occupant of the bed had died from EVD. Soon after, Moses showed symptoms of EVD. He developed a fever. He started vomiting and had diarrhoea. A few days later the authorities shut down the hospital because nurses started dying of EVD.

Fatu then took her father to Monrovia. Three hospitals turned him away because they were already filled over capacity. So, Fatu took her father back to Kakata and got him admitted in another hospital. There they said he had typhoid fever and did little for him. Frustrated, Fatu returned home with her father.

At home Moses infected three other family members: his wife Victoria (57), elder daughter Vivian (28), and nephew Alfred Winnie (14). Fatu was the only unaffected family member.

Fatu contacted their family doctor. But he refused to come to their home, fearing the possibility of getting infected. Taking the next best option, Fatu requested the doctor to for directions. She got the medicines and fluids prescribed by the doctor from a local clinic. Her training at the nursing school helped her create her own intravenous lines.

Fatu Kekula, 22-year-old Liberian student nurse  saved her father's life in this makeshift isolation ward in a spare unfinished room at home. - MCT

Fatu Kekula, 22-year-old Liberian student nurse saved her father’s life in this makeshift isolation ward in a spare unfinished room at home. – MCT

Fatu then began to take care of her father, mother, sister, and cousin, all by herself. She put her three patients – father, mother and cousin in makeshift isolation ward in a spare unfinished room at home.

Fatu Kekula, 22-year-old Liberian student nurse. She took all the precautions for avoiding contact by using layers of trash bags on her feet and hair. She wore rubber boots, four pairs of gloves, and a face mask. (Source: edition.cnn.com)

Fatu Kekula, 22-year-old Liberian student nurse. She took all the precautions for avoiding contact by using layers of trash bags on her feet and hair. She wore rubber boots, four pairs of gloves, and a face mask. (Source: edition.cnn.com)

She did not have personal protection equipment such as those white space suits and goggles used in Ebola treatment units. She invented her own protective gear. She came up with the trash bag method. She took all the precautions for avoiding contact by using layers of trash bags on her feet and hair. She wore rubber boots, four pairs of gloves, and a face mask.

She fed her patients, gave them medicines, and cleaned them, all by herself day in and day out. It is a miracle that Fatu herself was not infected in the two weeks she was taking care of her family though she was in close contact with them.

On August 17, 2014, space became available at John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the national medical center of Liberia, located in the Sinkor district of Monrovia. Fatu’s father, mother, and sister recovered, but her cousin Alfred Winnie succumbed to the disease at the hospital the following day.

Fatu Kekula’s father is trying to find a scholarship for her that so she can finish her final year of nursing school. He has no doubt his daughter will go on to save more lives in the future.

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