Omaha — An American aid worker infected with Ebola has been given blood from a fellow doctor who battled the disease, and Nebraska doctors say the man has responded well to aggressive treatment in the past week.
Dr. Rick Sacra received two blood transfusions from Dr. Kent Brantly last weekend after arriving at the Nebraska Medical Center, Dr. Phil Smith said Thursday. Sacra also has been given an experimental drug and other treatments.
Sacra is close friends with Brantly, one of the first two Americans treated for Ebola in Atlanta last month, from their missionary work.
"It really meant a lot to us that he was willing to give that donation so quickly after his own recovery," Sacra's wife, Debbie, said.
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Sacra, 51, and Brantly, 33, both arrived at the hospital in Omaha last Friday. Brantly tried to visit with Sacra over a video conference after he donated his blood to the hospital's blood bank for testing, but Debbie Sacra said Thursday her husband doesn't remember that encounter. The blood was reduced to plasma before the first transfusion.
These blood transfusions are believed to help a patient fight off the Ebola virus because the survivor's blood carries antibodies for the disease.
More than 2,200 people have died in West Africa during the current Ebola outbreak, although Ebola hasn't been confirmed as the cause of all those deaths. Debbie Sacra said she hopes her husband's illness and the experience of other aid workers can lead to new treatments for Ebola before the outbreak spreads beyond West Africa.
Rick Sacra, who had been working at a hospital in Liberia with the North Carolina-based charity SIM, is also receiving an experimental drug that doctors refuse to identify. And he has received supportive care including IV fluids.
Debbie Sacra said her husband seemed about 80 percent normal mentally when she talked to him Thursday. She said that was a big improvement compared to the weekend.
Smith said doctors wanted to treat Sacra aggressively to give him the best chance of recovering. But he said that makes it hard to determine what is helping him improve.
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"We administered everything we had access to," Smith said.
The doctors treating Sacra are talking with doctors at Emory University Hospital who have treated two previous Ebola patients and are currently treating another Ebola patient. They hope to develop new treatments based on their experiences.
Officials announced Thursday that Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen's foundation is donating $9 million to help the U.S. government fight the disease in West Africa. The grant to the CDC Foundation will help establish emergency operations centers to better track and respond to Ebola.
Sacra was the third American aid worker with the Ebola virus to be flown to the U.S. for treatment. A fourth American with Ebola arrived Tuesday at Emory in Atlanta. Few details have been released about that patient.
But the World Health Organization said a doctor who had been working in an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone tested positive for the disease and was to be evacuated Monday in stable condition.
Debbie Sacra said she knows her husband will be eager to return to West Africa "when he gets his strength back."