US Ebola doctor's long, agonising road to recovery

Dr Ian Crozier, who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, was said to be the sickest such patient treated at Emory hospital.
Dr Ian Crozier, who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, was said to be the sickest such patient treated at Emory hospital.

PHOENIX - The medical record, from an Ebola case, made for grim reading, but Dr Ian Crozier could not put it down.

Within days of the first symptom, a headache, the patient was fighting for his life. He became delirious, his blood teemed with the virus and his lungs, liver and kidneys began to fail.

"It's a horrible-looking chart," Dr Crozier said. It was his own.

Dr Crozier, 44, contracted the disease in Sierra Leone while treating Ebola patients in Kenema. He was evacuated to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Sept 9, the third American with Ebola to be airlifted there from West Africa. He had a long, agonising illness.

Now, for the first time, he is speaking out.

At 1.95m tall and 100kg before he got Ebola, he has lost 13.5kg, much of it muscle. He tires easily, but has begun a gruelling therapy course to rebuild wasted muscles.

"Ian was by far the sickest patient with Ebola virus that we've cared for at Emory," said Dr Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist. Doctors said his recovery has taught them that aggressive treatments, even measures like ventilators and dialysis machines, can save some Ebola patients. Dr Bruce Ribner, who leads the Emory team, said that until recently, the practice was not to intubate Ebola patients or put them on dialysis, because if they got that sick, they were going to die.

Dr Crozier was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), but his family moved to the United States when he was 10. He went to medical school at Vanderbilt University, specialising in infectious diseases. This year, he signed on with the World Health Organisation - expenses only, no pay - and by August, he was in Kenema.

It was even more wrenching than he had imagined - the sights, sounds, smells and steady stream of deaths. Blood, stool and vomit were ever present.

"Those isolation wards are horrible places," Dr Crozier said.

On the morning of Sept 6, he developed a fever and headache. He isolated himself, hoping he had malaria. He has no memory of the three weeks after he arrived at Emory.

Doctors do not know why some patients become so much sicker than others. Dr Crozier's age may have worked against him: People over 40 tend to have worse outcomes than younger ones.

A nurse also infected in Kenema flew to Emory from Britain and donated plasma. Dr Crozier's virus levels began dropping, but his kidneys failed, and he was connected to a dialysis machine. He was on the ventilator for 12 days, and on dialysis for 24. He began to recover. But there were ominous signs of brain damage.

When he finally opened his eyes at the end of September, he had trouble making conversation. But he grilled doctors about his lab results, so the family knew his mind was intact.

But he said his mind is not working as fast as it should. "It's a fear," he said. "Am I going to be myself again, completely?"


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.