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R.I. man undergoing experimental Ebola treatment

OMAHA — The second Ebola patient to be treated in Nebraska remained in good spirits Monday upon arriving from Liberia, his parents said, but his condition was expected to worsen as he entered a critical phase of the illness.

Ashoka Mukpo, a 33-year-old who grew up in Providence, was in stable condition Monday afternoon at Nebraska Medical Center, where he will receive treatment in a 10-bed biocontainment unit said to be the largest in the country.

Mukpo will undergo an experimental treatment for the illness, medical center spokesman Taylor Wilson said Monday. But it is unknown at this point what drug will be used.

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Wilson said multiple options are being considered, including TKM-Ebola, used in the successful treatment of Massachusetts physician Richard Sacra, and brincidofovir, a drug being employed in the treatment of a critically ill Ebola patient in Dallas.

Mukpo was working as a freelance cameraman for NBC News in Liberia when he fell ill last week. He is the fifth American to return to the United States for treatment during the outbreak, which has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa.

A specially equipped plane carrying him left Liberia on Sunday evening, making a stop in Bangor to refuel, before arriving at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield about 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Mukpo walked off the plane under his own power. He wore a hooded jumpsuit and waved in a manner that his father described as “gingerly.” He was loaded onto a stretcher, which was carried into an ambulance by staff wearing protective suits.

Four motorcycles and two police cruisers accompanied the ambulance to the hospital, the spokesman said. The convoy, trailed by a helicopter, arrived at Nebraska Medical Center at 7:53 a.m. Mukpo was wheeled inside on a gurney.

Five minutes later, he was in the biocontainment unit on the seventh floor of University Tower.

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Mukpo’s symptoms on arrival included fever and nausea, said his father, Dr. Mitchell Levy, who traveled from Rhode Island with his wife to be present as their son began treatment.

“He’s enormously relieved to be here,” his mother, Diana Mukpo, said. “Of course, it’s still quite frightening, but he’s hanging in.”

Because the infection was caught early, before it entered the phase with the most severe symptoms, Mukpo’s condition will probably deteriorate before improving, said his father, who is director of the medical intensive care unit at Rhode Island Hospital.

Officials at the Nebraska hospital said the successful treatment of Sacra would yield lessons for the medical staff treating their latest patient.

One example: A laboratory used to measure electrolytes and perform blood tests was relocated to the biocontainment unit, saving about an hour per test.

The biocontainment unit staff of 35 had expanded to about 45 by the time Mukpo arrived, said Shelly Schwedhelm, nursing director of the biocontainment unit.

“I wanted to be able to care for more than one patient at a time if we were asked to do so,” she said.

It was a quiet Monday afternoon at the hospital, where students and staff had become accustomed to the Ebola-related activity a month after the first patient arrived.

For some, there was a sense that this new patient would not be the last.

“As long as there’s Ebola, there’s a chance that there’s a patient here,” said Emily Kindvall, a 24-year-old physical therapy student.

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Mukpo’s arrival had one noticeable effect for students in shadowing programs.

“We won’t be going to the biomedical containment unit any time soon,” said Dylan Ashby, a 16-year-old taking classes at the medical center as part of a high school alliance.

Inside the unit, Mukpo’s preliminary treatment will focus on controlling symptoms and making sure he gets enough fluids, doctors said.

Mukpo’s parents said their son had spent two years working for a nongovernmental organization in Liberia before coming back to the United States in May. He returned to the African nation in September.

His parents warned him against traveling there during the height of the outbreak, his mother pleading with him to change his mind.

“I begged him from a mother’s perspective, saying, ‘Please don’t go,’ ” she said.

“When he told me, I asked him if he was crazy,” the father recalled.

Mukpo said he may have become infected while spray-washing a car in which a person had died, Levy said.

His parents held a short video chat with their son before a press conference Monday. Levy said his son looked strong.

The mother was just happy to see him.

“It was an enormous relief to be able to see his face,” she said.