Second Ebola patient arrives in Omaha

Diana Mukpo and Dr. Mitchell Levy, parents of Ebola patient Ashoka Mukpo, in Omaha (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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October 6, 2014 - 5:52pm

A second patient with Ebola is being treated at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Ashoka Mukpo of Providence, R.I. arrived in Omaha Monday morning from Liberia, where he’d been working for NBC News. Diana Mukpo, his mother, said her son is in good spirits. “He’s enormously relieved to be here,” she said at an Omaha news conference. “Of course it’s still quite frightening. But he’s hanging in and he sounds very strong. And I think he shares in the relief of the rest of his family that he’s been able to come back for good medical treatment here.”

Mukpo had worked in Liberia until May on a project documenting conditions of mineworkers there. He recently returned to report on the Ebola epidemic, and had been filming in and around a clinic.

Mukpo’s father, Dr. Mitchell Levy, said he and Mukpo’s mother tried to persuade him not to go back, to no avail. “He made a strong connection for the two years that he lived there with the Liberian people and their culture. And he felt compelled to go back,” Levy said. “When he told me I asked him if he was crazy and obviously did everything I could -- and I know Diana as well -- to dissuade him. And at the same time he made it clear that felt like this is what he was trained for and he really had to do it. And he felt that he understood the risks and that he was putting himself in harm’s way. But that’s how he wants to live his life.”

The parents said their son is tired, with a fever and some nausea, but no diarrhea yet. Levy said he understands Ebola patients typically get worse before they get better.

Jeff Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, sought to reassure people. “The Nebraska Medical Center biocontainment unit is one of the safest places in the world for Mr. Mukpo to be,” Gold said. “But it is also one of the safest places in the world for our team of highly-experienced health care professionals caring for him, for his family and for the general public.”

And Gold suggested UNMC offers a special advantage. “As with our last patient, we can assure you that every possible measure will be taken to ensure that Mr. Mukpo receives the very best care and treatment that modern medicine has to offer, along with a signature dose of Nebraska niceness and hospitality for him and for his family,” Gold said.

Mukpo is the second Ebola patient to be treated in Omaha. The first, Dr. Rick Sacra, was discharged Sept. 25. He went home to Massachusetts where he was hospitalized for a respiratory problem over the weekend. But he has now been released, and officials say he remains free of the Ebola virus.

Nebraska medical officials said as of Monday morning they had not yet decided on a course of treatment for Mukpo. But Dr. Ali Khan of UNMC suggested the key to stopping the epidemic lies in improving public health measures, not in treating people who are already sick. “This is a failure of public health in West Africa that is making a global problem a very local problem for us here, whether it’s in Omaha, whether it’s in Dallas or the next city in the United States,” Khan said.

Khan said the situation in Omaha is different from that in Dallas, where people in the community are being monitored after coming into contact with an Ebola patient. “This is a distinct difference between  what happened in Dallas, which is an uncontrolled situation of a patient reporting into an emergency room with Ebola infection and what’s happening here, which is a controlled situation where we know what the person has,” he said. “There’s another distinction which is the training that has happened in this institution for the last decade to make sure that we have trained and drilled again and again that we can protect our patients, protect our employees, and protect our community.”

Khan said as the tragedy of Ebola continues to expand in West Africa, people around the United States  should expect more Ebola patients to show up. “You will see cases, you will see individuals who will make their way into the U.S. and other countries. And we need to make sure that every hospital is prepared if somebody shows up in their emergency room with a severe infectious disease, he said.

To assure that, Khan added, more work needs to be done.




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