Sep. 2, 2014 at 6:05 PM ET
Dr. Kent Brantly, the doctor infected with Ebola while working in West Africa, told NBC News in an exclusive interview that he spent the morning praying for a colleague, the latest American infected with the virus.
Brantly said he was “very close” to the doctor for SIM USA who was infected at the hospital where Brantly worked in Liberia with the aid group Samaritan's Purse. The doctor has not been named publicly.
“I was notified about that this morning. I spent a good long while tearful, in prayer,” Brantly said in an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer airing on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and Wednesday on the TODAY show.
Brantly sat down for an extended interview. He and his wife, Amber, have been living in seclusion with their children since his release nearly two weeks ago from Emory University Hospital.
Brantly, 33, contracted Ebola while doing missionary aid work in Liberia. Another aid worker, Nancy Writebol, 59, was diagnosed as having the virus as well. Both were flown back to the U.S. for treatment and are no longer contagious.
Looking thin but healthy, Brantly spoke in a quiet voice and clutched Amber’s hand in both of his as they sat together for a joint interview. He recalled his own great relief that when he was diagnosed, Amber and his children were far away. They had left Liberia three days earlier to attend a wedding in Texas.
“I was so thankful that Amber and the kids were not there. Yeah, I wanted to be close to them. But that gave me great relief, knowing they were gone three days before I had any symptoms,” he said. “That would have been an overwhelming mental burden, if I had woken up sick next to my wife with one of my kids snuggled up next to me.”
When he first felt sick, he had a low fever that made him feel “a little off – a little warm, a little under the weather.” He hoped it was malaria, but the test came back negative. His friends and family prayed it was dengue fever.
Amber Brantly remembers waiting for the call. She worried all day, knowing he was getting another blood draw.
“When he did call to tell me he had Ebola … I don’t know if I can describe that,” she said, tearing up at the memory. “I knew what was coming. I had seen him treat these people who had already been diagnosed. And I knew how it ends. I knew how everyone had ended up so far. So I had the disadvantage of having the knowledge of the course of the disease. I was scared.”
For a time in Liberia, doctors didn't think he would make it through the night. Brantly said they never told him, but he felt like he was about to die and had trouble breathing. His body was shaking with violent shivers.
“And I said to the nurse who was taking care of me, ‘I'm sick. I have no reserve. And I don't know how long I can keep this up.’ And I said, ‘I don't know how you're going to breathe for me when I quit breathing.’ 'Cause that was the reality. I thought, ‘I-- I'm not gonna be able to continue breathing this way.’ And they had no way to breathe for me if I had to quit breathing.”
Soon after, he was offered an experimental treatment, ZMapp, never before tested on humans. But he notes that at the same time, people around the world began to pray for him. He says he never lost faith, and he’s still working on his own recovery.
“Right now I still have a lot of recovering to do,” he said. “I know I look well but I am still pretty weak.”
— Maggie Fox