OMAHA, Neb. -- A surgeon who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone arrived in Nebraska Saturday for treatment at a biocontainment unit where two other people with the disease have been successfully treated.
Dr. Martin Salia, who was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday, landed at Eppley Airfield in Omaha on Saturday afternoon and was being transported to the Nebraska Medical Center.
The hospital said the medical crew transporting Salia, 44, determined he was stable enough to fly, but that information from the team caring for him in Sierra Leone indicated he was critically ill and "possibly sicker than the first patients successfully treated in the United States." In another tweet Saturday, the hospital described Salia as being "too sick to walk on his own."
The disease has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leona. Of the 10 people treated for the disease in the U.S., all but one has recovered.
Salia was working as a general surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown. Kissy is not an Ebola treatment unit, but Salia worked in at least three other facilities, United Methodist News said, citing health ministry sources.
Salia is a Sierra Leone citizen who lives in Maryland with permanent U.S. residency.
In a video recorded at the hospital in April, Salia explained why he felt the need to treat Ebola patients, despite the high risk of infection.
"I knew it wasn't going to be rosy," Salia said, "but why did I decide to choose this job? I firmly believed God wanted me to do it. I knew deep within myself, there was just something inside of me, that the people of this part of Freetown needed help."
Salia went on to say, "I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe it was a calling and God wanted me to. That's why I strongly believe it's God that brought me here to fix whatever comes my way. 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."
The U.S. State Department said it was helping facilitate Salia's transfer; the U.S. Embassy in Freetown said he was paying for the expensive evacuation. The travel costs and care of other Ebola patients flown to the U.S. were covered by the groups they worked for in West Africa.
Salia's wife, Isatu Salia, said in a telephone interview that when she spoke to her husband early Friday his voice sounded weak and shaky. But he told her "I love you" in a steady voice, she said.
The two prayed together, and their children, ages 12 and 20, are coping, Isatu Salia said, calling her husband "my everything."
Salia came down with Ebola symptoms on Nov. 6 but tested negative for the virus. He was tested again on Monday and tested positive.
Colleagues describe Salia as "one of the best-trained surgeons in his country." He recieved his surgical training from a group called the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons, which seeks to train African doctors who then served on the continent for at least four years.
"People like Martin are just absolutely dedicated, highly trained... and doing their best in absolutely horrifying conditions," said Bruce Steffes, executive director of PAACS.
Sierra Leone is one of the three West Africa nations hit hard by an Ebola epidemic this year. Five other doctors in Sierra Leone have contracted Ebola, and all have died.