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NYC doctor heads home, Ebola free

Last Updated Nov 11, 2014 3:08 PM EST

Dr. Craig Spencer, the physician who contracted Ebola while serving as a volunteer in Guinea, was discharged on Tuesday from New York City's Bellevue Hospital. He had been receiving treatment since Oct. 23 and was declared free of the virus on Monday.

At a press conference held at the hospital's entrance, Spencer was met with applause from the crowd and plenty of hugs from city officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, who praised his heroic work serving patients in the West African region that has been ravaged by the deadly virus.

"My recovery from Ebola speaks to the effectiveness of the protocols in place for health staff returning from West Africa at the time of my infection," Spencer told the crowd. "I am a living example of how those protocols work, and of how early detection and isolation is critical to both surviving Ebola and ensuring that it is not transmitted to others."

The 33-year-old doctor thanked the medical staff Bellevue who were involved in his care and treatment, which according to Bassett amounted to at least 100 medical professionals, including those who helped in his transfer to the hospital and onsite lab technicians.

Spencer was the last of 9 Ebola patients who've been treated in the U.S. since August. All but one survived; Thomas Eric Duncan died at a Dallas hospital Oct. 8.

Spencer spoke of the rewarding experience in Guinea treating patients. "During this time, I cried as I held children who were not strong enough to survive the virus," he said. "But I also experienced immense joy when patients I treated were cured and invited me into their family as a brother upon discharge. Within a week of my diagnosis, many of these same patients called my personal phone to wish me well and ask if there was any way they could contribute to my care."

Three weeks ago, when his diagnosis was made public, Spencer received widespread criticism when details emerged about his activities in the days before his hospital admission. The doctor reportedly took three subways, ate at a popular restaurant and visited public places including a park and bowling alley.

But city officials had a different take. During press conference Basset, de Blasio and others praised Spencer for his quick action and for following the protocols that have been implemented by Doctors Without Borders, which require any volunteer returning from West Africa to self-monitor for Ebola symptoms for 21 days. Spencer called health officials as soon as he developed a fever and was taken to the hospital in full protective gear.

Since Spencer's diagnosis, Bassett and others have taken pains to remind the public that the virus is spread strictly through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is sick, and that Spencer posed little or no risk to others. "For us in New York City, we must continue to be vigilant and vigilant for other public health threats such as stigma and discrimination," she said.

"It is a good feeling to hug a hero and we have a hero here in our midst someone who served others not matter its danger. Dr Spencer showed what it means to help your fellow human and that spirit was met here at Bellevue especially by these nurses," de Blasio said.

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