CBSN

Surgeon being treated for Ebola in Nebraska critical

OMAHA, Neb. - The Nebraska doctors treating a surgeon who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone say he is in extremely critical condition.

Dr. Martin Salia, who was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday, arrived in Omaha Saturday.

Dr. Phil Smith leads the Nebraska Medical Center's biocontainment unit that has successfully treated two other Ebola patients this fall. Smith said Sunday that Salia is "extremely ill."

The hospital says the 44-year-old Salia might be more ill than the first Ebola patients successfully treated in the United States.

The deadly virus 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.

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.