IMPACT
10/28/2014 06:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Healthcare Volunteers At New Ebola Unit In Liberia 'Love' Their Work

The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Michelle Nichols

GBARNGA, Liberia, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Deep in a Liberian bush, two U.S. nurses are taking a break after spending two hours wearing protective suits in stifling temperatures to care for patients suffering from Ebola, the viral killer that has ravaged three West African countries.

Well behind them in the treatment unit's "red zone" two young boys, Solomon and Joe, who is wearing SpongeBob SquarePants pajama pants, stand at a neon orange fence waving. Solomon is on day 13 of his treatment and Joe is on day 8.

The nurses - Bridget Mulrooney, 36, and Kelly Suter, 29 - said both boys appeared to be getting better, along with other family members being cared for at the Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit about 200 km (120 miles) east of the capital, Monrovia.

"Solomon's little sister, she was really sick but she's getting better. Today she's sitting up, playing with a little squirt gun in bed," said a beaming Mulrooney, who is originally from Florida. "It's so exciting when they get better."

The treatment unit has been open about six weeks. It was built by the charity Save the Children, staffed by International Medical Corps, a humanitarian organization, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

It has about 50 beds, including 30 for confirmed cases of Ebola and 20 for suspected cases. On Tuesday, there were 15 confirmed Ebola patients and another five awaiting test results.

"There's hard days; there's also really good days. It's very encouraging to see them get better, to see them happy. We show nightly movies, 'The Lion King' and 'Frozen' and stuff like that," said Suter, who comes from Michigan. "They love it, especially the kids."

If patients are able, they bring chairs outside the treatment unit tents and watch the movies projected on a sheet slung over a piece of rope, said Mulrooney and Suter, who were speaking to Reuters over an outer perimeter fence.

During a brief visit to Liberia, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power traveled to Bong County on Tuesday, where the United States has also set up a mobile laboratory. Accompanied by U.S. public health experts, Power visited the treatment unit but did not enter the facility.

Seeing some U.S. troops in Power's delegation, young Solomon stood and saluted. In a yard in front of the boys, black boots worn by healthcare workers were hanging on poles to be cleaned.

Mulrooney said many of the patients have moved her.

"One of my favorites is getting better right now, he's a man from Sierra Leone. ... He came in really, really sick," she said. "I was in PPE (personal protective equipment), and he could not believe that I put my hands on him. He said, 'You're touching me. ... You're not afraid of me.'"

Some 5,000 people have been killed by Ebola, predominantly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. There have been a handful of cases in Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Spain and the United States. The disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or someone who has died of the disease.

With several U.S. states imposing mandatory quarantines for healthcare workers returning from West Africa, Mulrooney said people considering traveling to the region to help should not be deterred by rules she characterized as "unfair, unjust."

"I love it, I absolutely love it," she said. "I extended, I'm here until the end of the year." (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Find out more about Doctors Without Borders' efforts to combat Ebola and how you can get involved here. Support UNICEF's efforts to fight Ebola through the fundraising widget below or by calling 1-800-FOR-KIDS.

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