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Mourners Gather To Remember Surgeon Who Died Of Ebola

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The surgeon from Sierra Leone who died this morning of Ebola at University of Nebraska Medical Center received some of the most advanced treatments available for the disease. Dr. Martin Salia was given the experimental drug ZMapp and a plasma transfusion from an Ebola survivor but they were not enough to save him and his colleagues in Sierra Leone are shocked.

LEONARD GBLOH: When we talk about effective treatment, we think the U.S. comes first and cases that will go to the U.S. we always are pretty sure that the patient is going to make it. We thought that he was going to come back.

BLOCK: We thought that he was going to come back - that's administrator Leonard Gbloh at Sierra Leone's Kissy United Methodist Hospital.

NPR's Nurith Aizenman talked with him about Dr. Salia and she joins me on the line now from Freetown. Nurith, tell us more about Dr. Martin Salia. He was a native of Sierra Leone, but also a U.S. resident.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Yes, Dr. Salia's wife and two children live in Maryland but colleagues tell me he was essentially working full-time as a general surgeon here in Sierra Leone. He was based at three different hospitals and he was performing routine surgery but though Dr. Salia wasn't specifically here to treat Ebola patients, the virus is a surging through the capital and that puts all health workers at risk.

BLOCK: And you've been talking with other medical personnel who worked with Dr. Salia in Sierra Leone. What else have they told you?

AIZENMAN: They describe him as just a very caring man, a man with a sense of humor. The lead clinician at the Ebola treatment center where he received care said to me that when Dr. Salia arrived, he just was in shock. I mean, this is a man who has been seeing dozens of people die all the time around him and he's really had to keep his emotions in check and when he saw Dr. Salia walk in, he said he literally had to just remove himself from the room to regain his composure. He was just so upset to see that Dr. Salia now had Ebola.

BLOCK: Now, initially Dr. Salia had tested negative for Ebola and then a later test turned up positive. At that point he was sent to the United States and he was in extremely critical condition when he arrived. How big a problem are false negative results in Ebola testing?

AIZENMAN: It appears that if someone is tested in the early stages of the disease when their viral load is low there can be false negatives. That said, it is unclear why there was a false negative in this case because we've heard from the colleague of Dr. Salia who recommended that he go for that first test and apparently he already had pretty serious symptoms at the time so it's unclear why at that stage he would've had that false negative.

BLOCK: And overall what can you tell us about the testing capabilities for Ebola in Sierra Leone?

AIZENMAN: Well, it's a huge problem here right now. There aren't a lot of labs and I am coming across cases of people who are waiting days just to get their blood drawn, but in Dr. Salia's case, he appears to have gotten special treatment. I'm told he arrived at the Ebola treatment center at 8 a.m. Everyone knew who he was. He's one of a very small number of doctors here and they immediately put him at the front of the line and by 8 p.m. that night, he had his results. Unfortunately, it was an incorrect result and it looked like he was in the clear and apparently several colleagues and friends were so happy that they hugged him and of course he was symptomatic at the time, which is very dangerous, it means he was infectious at the time that they hugged him.

BLOCK: And so the question now would be are any of those colleagues who were in close proximity to him, will they also test positive for Ebola?

AIZENMAN: Yeah, it remains to be seen. I'm hearing of several who are currently in quarantine as a result of having been in such close proximity to him when he had those symptoms.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Nurith Aizenman reporting from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Nurith, thanks so much.

AIZENMAN: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.