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The inside story of Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly’s decision to serve in Liberia

His illness sparked prayers around the world. Now the sister of the American Christian who contracted an often-deadly virus while serving as a medical missionary — and survived it — shares insight.

Krista Brantly couldn’t be prouder of her youngest brother.


“But I’ve always been proud of him,” she told The Christian Chronicle in a telephone interview from Atlanta, where she had just visited her brother, Dr. Kent Brantly, in a special unit at Emory University Hospital.

“He hasn’t become a different person” since contracting the deadly Ebola virus — and becoming the focus of international media attention, his sister said.
Rather, “he is who he is because he tries to live according to God’s will.”
Her brother was released from the hospital Aug. 21 after making what he described as a “miraculous” recovery.
Kent Brantly, the youngest of six siblings, grew up in the pews of the Southeastern Church of Christ in Indianapolis, where his sister attends and his father and two uncles have served as elders. A graduate of Abilene Christian University in Texas, he and his wife, Amber, worshiped with the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth before committing to work as full-time medical missionaries.

The couple and their two children moved to the West African nation of Liberia, where Kent Brantly was serving in a two-year, post-residency program sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization. Two months after the family arrived, the Ebola outbreak began in neighboring Guinea. The virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the first outbreak was recorded in 1976, has no cure and a high mortality rate. 
Dr. Kent Brantly at work at a hospital in Liberia — before contracting the Ebola virus. (IMAGE VIA SAMARITANSPURSE.ORG)
As of Tuesday, Ebola had claimed 1,145 lives in West Africa, the World Health Organization reported.

Kent Brantly treated patients at a hospital in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. He and fellow healthcare workers outfitted themselves in protective suits as they treated victims of Ebola, which is spread only through contact with bodily fluids.

In late July, the physician began running a fever and felt sick. He quarantined himself and took a test for Ebola.

“He was being so careful,” Krista Brantly said, so when the family learned of his illness, “we were hoping it was malaria or Dengue fever.” Both of those ailments also occur in Africa. Though brutal, they’re treatable — and survivable.

For 72 hours, the Brantly family prayed as they waited for the results of the test. When she got the news that it was positive, “it knocked the breath out of me,” Krista Brantly said. “We had told a few people to be praying, so we let them know, pray harder!”

Though it’s only been a few weeks since that revelation, “it seems like years,” she added.

“We’re confident that he didn’t do something careless,” she said. Though they don’t know how he contracted Ebola, “at this point, it doesn’t really matter.”
“Before the diagnosis, he told us that he wanted God to be glorified — whether he lived or died,” she said. “That’s what he was praying, fervently.”

‘WHEREVER HE CALLED ME, I WOULD GO’

Why did Kent Brantly go to Liberia?

Political pundits have asked the question, citing the high cost and risk of transporting him and his coworker, Nancy Writebol, also infected with Ebola, to Atlanta.

Columnist Ann Coulter issued a scathing critique of the physician, accusing him of abandoning America “to do much-praised work in Third World countries.”

“I haven’t read it,” Krista Brantly said when asked about the column.
Her brother answered many of his current critics before he left for Liberia — in a July 2013 sermon he delivered to the Southeastern church, where he was baptized.

“I learned to read shape notes in Kay Johnson’s Wednesday night singing class,” he told the congregation. He loved hearing stories and seeing pictures from visiting missionaries — especially his uncles and aunts, Dr. Frank and Lou Ann Black and Bob and Joan Dixon, who served in Africa.

Frank Black is the former director of the International Health Care Foundation, a church-supported nonprofit in Searcy, Ark. Black organized annual medical mission conferences in Dallas. At the 2003 conference, one of Kent Brantly’s brothers — Chad, a dentist in San Angelo, Texas — performed a song, jokingly titled “Please Don’t Send me to Africa.” (Chad Brantly and much of his family have participated in mission trips to Africa.)

Kent Brantly, meanwhile, studied Bible at Abilene Christian. For a summer ministry internship, he spent 10 weeks working with three mission teams in Kenya and Tanzania.

During a devotional near the end of that internship, a visiting Bible teacher spoke about being a slave to Christ. That meant, “wherever he wanted to send me, wherever he called me, I would go,” Kent Brantly recalled. “Then the realization hit me. What if he called me to be a missionary in Tanzania?” It wasn’t an appealing idea at the time.

“My saving grace, though, was the second part of that lesson,” he said. “God provides everything we need to be faithful to him.”

After graduation, he decided to pursue medicine, returning to ACU for a fifth year to take science classes.

He also went on a medical mission trip to El Salvador and Honduras.

There, “I began to feel the impact that a medical missionary could have on the lives she or he touched,” he said. “Incidentally, I met a young pre-nursing student who taught me to measure blood pressure that week. Now she’s my wife.”

He studied at the Indiana University School of Medicine and did a rotation of his residency program alongside Frank Black at the Chimala Mission Hospital in Tanzania.

“I can sincerely say that Kent is not only a well-trained, excellent doctor,” his uncle said, “but he combines his Christianity with his medicine in a more effective manner than any doctor I’ve worked with. He’s an example to all us healthcare workers.”

In his sermon, Kent Brantly told his church family that they played a vital role in his decision to become a medical missionary.

“You encouraged me to memorize Bible verses, supported me to go on my first mission trip,” he said. Many sacrificed their days off to teach at Vacation Bible School and a church-run camp. “I allowed your words and your actions to help guide me as I moved forward in my walk with God.

“Time and time again, God has used my life circumstances to remind me that he is sovereign, that he is in control.”

‘I AM MORE GRATEFUL EVERY DAY’

In Atlanta, “I am recovering in every way,” Kent Brantly said in a statement released by Samaritan’s Purse. “I thank God for the healthcare team here … giving me compassionate, world-class care. I am more grateful every day to the Lord for sparing my life and continuing to heal my body.”
He’s able to talk to his family — through a window, using an intercom. His father, Jim Brantly, told the Chronicle that he and his wife, Jan, “are praying daily that God will continue to use this difficult situation to his glory and for his purposes.”

That seems to be happening, Krista Brantly said. The family has received messages of support from 30 countries — from people of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.

A group of travelers told the family that they heard Kent Brantly mentioned, by name, from the pulpit of an Anglican church — in Ethiopia.

Christians in West Africa, including Church of Christ minister Isaac Daye, praised Kent Brantly for his service. In a message from Liberia, Daye said the physician “will go down in history in the fight against this killer disease as a faithful soldier of Christ — who risked his life on the battlefield, saving lives and souls.”

Chris Kirby, the Southeastern church’s youth minister, said that the ordeal “has brought a level of awareness to our church that may have been lacking. It seems that we have a fresh interest in what it means to truly commit to faith.”

Witnessing the faith of Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol as they battle Ebola “has touched so many people and strengthened their prayer lives,” Krista Brantly said.

It also has “prompted them to acts of service, opened the door to so many conversations about the Gospel and faith in God,” she said.

“We hear story after story. … We will never know every story, but we know, without a doubt, that God is at work in powerful ways.”
RELATED COVERAGE
‘A clash of fear and faith’ — stories of despair and hope as Ebola spreads among Christians in West Africa
‘God has placed a call on all of us’ — see a transcript of Dr. Kent Brantly’s sermon

Filed under: International National Top Stories Headlines - Secondary

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