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Mass. doctor with Ebola headed to the United States

The Massachusetts doctor who became the third American medical worker to contract the deadly Ebola virus while working in Africa is expected to arrive Friday morning at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for treatment.

Dr. Richard A. Sacra, who fell ill a week ago, was initially being cared for at the ELWA Hospital in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, where he had been working in the obstetrical ward for the past month.

But SIM, the Christian missionary group that sponsors his work, decided to move him to a specialized unit in Nebraska, because it could “provide advanced monitoring equipment and wider availability of treatment options,” said Bruce Johnson, SIM’s president.


“Rick was receiving excellent care from our SIM/ELWA staff in Liberia at our Ebola 2 Care Center,” Johnson said in a statement. “They all love and admire him deeply.”

Deborah S. Sacra, the doctor’s wife, said that her husband was “clearly sick, but he was in very good spirits,” and able to walk onto a plane Thursday.

“We are really encouraged by that news and looking forward to reuniting with him,” she said Thursday evening at a news conference at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, where Sacra is a faculty member. Sacra will be treated at the 10-bed Biocontainment Patient Care Unit inside Nebraska Medical Center, the largest of four such units in the United States, none of them in Boston. Built in 2005, the unit is staffed by 30 to 35 specialists and equipped with an air-handling system that stops germs from spreading.

“We have been preparing for this type of event for a very long time,” said Jeffrey P. Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Not only will this patient receive world-class care, but all of our patients, students, faculty, and staff will be completely protected and safe.”


ZMapp, the experimental drug given to the two other Americans who contracted Ebola, is no longer available, but the Nebraska doctors are considering other possible treatments, said Dr. Angela Hewlett, associate medical director of the Biocontainment Unit.

Patients can fight off Ebola on their own while supportive hospital care — including intravenous fluids and stabilizing blood pressure and oxygen levels — treats symptoms and keeps the ill alive.

Two other Americans who contracted Ebola, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, recovered after treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which has a similar biocontainment unit. The others are at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana.

The 51-year-old Sacra is a family doctor who trained and worked in Worcester but had spent much of the past two decades in Liberia. Sacra had recently worked at the Family Health Center of Worcester, but decided to return to Liberia after health care workers started falling ill with Ebola.

Debbie Sacra said her family had been “overwhelmed and abundantly blessed” to hear kind words about Sacra since news of his sickness broke.

She said her family was confident in the “concern and attention” of SIM and the ELWA Hospital. “But he would want you to know that he would not be afraid,” she continued, her voice breaking, “to pass into eternal life with the Lord, not because he has done good works, but because of the death of Christ on his behalf.”


“The need of West Africa is desperate,” she said. She quoted from Sacra’s letters to colleagues, saying, “This epidemic is a wildfire about to rage out of control.” The outbreak is rooted in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — and has spread to Nigeria and Senegal. More than 3,700 cases of Ebola have been recorded, resulting in nearly 1,850 deaths.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com