Latest News

US Catholic doctor dies of Ebola after working in Sierra Leone

Dr Martin Salia, the U.S. surgeon originally from Sierra Leone, died yesterday (CNS photo courtesy Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service)

A Catholic doctor who contracted the Ebola virus while working at a Methodist hospital in Sierra Leone died yesterday at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Dr Martin Salia was the third Ebola patient to be treated in Omaha, and the first patient to die there. There have been 10 Ebola patients in the United States, two of whom have died.

Salia was working as a general surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, which is not an Ebola treatment unit.

It was not immediately clear how Salia contracted the virus, but sources at the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation say the 44-year-old worked in at least three other medical facilities in addition to Kissy Hospital.

Kissy serves some of Freetown’s poorest neighbourhoods. Several units of the hospital, including its surgical wards, were shut down in October when a patient who was admitted to the hospital for other health conditions manifested signs of Ebola. That patient was taken to another hospital in Freetown where he died.

Salia’s infection came several weeks after the 21-day quarantine imposed on all staff who had direct dealings with the patient who died. Kissy Hospital was closed on November 11 and a new 21-day quarantine imposed on the hospital staff in the wake of Salia’s Ebola diagnosis.

Salia, a citizen of Sierra Leone who had been living in Maryland, had tested negative on November 6 for the virus, but a second test four days later was positive. He arrived in Omaha on November 15.

In an interview with United Methodist Communications earlier this year, Salia talked about how important it was for him to work at a Christian hospital.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be rosy, but why did I decide to choose this job? I firmly believe God wanted me to do it. And I knew deep within myself. There was just something inside of me that the people of this part of Freetown needed help,” he said.

“I see it as God’s own desired framework for me. I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to. … And I’m pretty sure, I’m confident that I just need to lean on him, trust him, for whatever comes in, because he sent me here. And that’s my passion.”

“Whenever we want to start surgery, we pray. I am just being used as an instrument or as a surgeon to carry out God’s own plan for that person’s life,” he added.

“We’re very grateful for the efforts of the team led by Dr Smith,” said a statement from Salia’s wife, Isatu. “In the short time we spent here, it was apparent how caring and compassionate everyone was. We are so appreciative of the opportunity for my husband to be treated here and believe he was in the best place possible.”

The couple lived in New Carrollton, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, and have two sons, a 12-year-old and a 20-year-old. Maada Salia told NBC News in a recent interview that despite the risks posed by Ebola, his father “decided to still go and help his people because he wanted to show that he loves his people. He’s really, really a hero to me.”

Salia is the sixth doctor in Sierra Leone to be infected with the virus. The other five doctors also died.

Tributes poured in about Salia upon his death.

In a statement Bishop Warner Brown Jr, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said: “Dr Salia was a dedicated Christian physician who was living out a calling to serve others. We are inspired by his faith and by other health care workers like him around the world who provide medical care to those who might not otherwise have care, even at risk to themselves.