Ebola survivor Amber Vinson defends her decision to fly: 'I would never go outside of guidelines'

by Chris Serico /  / Updated 

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Just days after her Oct. 28 release from Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital following treatment for the Ebola virus, nurse Amber Vinson tells TODAY’s Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview that she felt "terrible" about media outlets later labeling her as careless and reckless.

“I'm an [Intensive Care Unit] nurse; I embrace protocol and guidelines and structure, because in my day-to-day nursing, it is a matter of life and death, and I respect that fact,” she said. “I would never go outside of guidelines or boundaries or something directly from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] telling me I can't go [or] I can't fly. I wouldn't do it.”

After Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan died Oct. 8, Vinson flew to Ohio to see family and friends. She told Matt she was never instructed not to travel, and felt “fine” throughout her trip.

“I talked to my ICU management team,” she explained. “I actually called in [that] Monday to verify that I was permitted to travel, and then again I was at work again on Tuesday or Wednesday, and I talked to management in person and they said the CDC said it was OK to go.”

Vinson dismissed reports that claimed she’d reported feeling ill during her Ohio trip and contacted the CDC to say she was returning to Dallas, calling them “completely false.” She said she had been in contact with another health official who alerted her to potential symptoms.

It was only after her return, she said, that she realized that if her fellow Texas Health Presbyterian nurse, Nina Pham, had contracted the virus, Vinson would be just as vulnerable.

“That Sunday when I heard about my colleague, Nina, coming down with the virus, I was floored,” said Vinson, who was diagnosed with disease Oct. 15. “I was afraid for myself, for my family, because I did everything that I was instructed to do, every time, and I felt like, 'If Nina can get it, any one of us could have gotten it.’”

Infected with the disease while treating Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Vinson reflected on how the Texas hospital handled that situation.

“You know, we did not get much training,” she said. “The first time that I put on the protective equipment, I was heading in to take care of the patient. So, we didn't have excessive training where we could don and doff, put on and take off the protective equipment, till we got a level of being comfortable with it. I didn't have that, and I think that's very important for hospitals across the nation, big and small. A patient with Ebola could show up in your E.R., and it is very important that the healthcare staff has training in putting on and taking off this equipment.”

Pham was released from a National Institutes of Health hospital in Maryland on Oct. 24 – four days before doctors discharged Vinson from Emory University Hospital, where medical missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, as well as an unidentified World Health Organization doctor, also received treatments that appeared to rid them of Ebola.

Now, Vinson is turning her attention to the future. Her family and friends set up a page on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe to help get her back on her feet, and when Matt asked Vinson if she would be open to treating another Ebola patient, her reply was emphatic.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Nursing is what I do. I could never see a patient that needs help and not do everything I can to help them.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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