Treating Those Who Treat Us

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Dr. Suzanne Donovan with her children, Max and Gabby. The family held a fundraiser at their Malibu home for one of Dr. Donovan’s colleagues who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Ebola fighter Dr. Suzanne Donovan held a fundraiser at her Malibu home for another doctor she met working in West Africa. Dr. Michael Mawanda contracted Ebola last October while treating patients. Dr. Mawanda is still too sick to work and is struggling to support his wife and four children.

“Dr. Mawanda is an experienced Ebola clinician from Kampala, Uganda who joined the fight against Ebola. He travelled to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he set up the Lakka Ebola Centre for the charity Emergencia,” said Dr. Donovan.

“I met him when I was there as a technical advisor for the World Health Organization (WHO), aiding Ebola treatment units. Michael became critically ill and a group of his colleagues arranged for him to be evacuated to Germany.”

Due to the rapid progression of this virus, Dr. Mawanda’s organs began to shut down and needed cutting-edge interventions to save his life. He was placed on a ventilator and underwent dialysis when his kidneys stopped functioning, one of the complications of Ebola. He also lost the tips of some of his fingers, because of problems with blood flow brought about by his illness.

Dr. Mawanda was the first patient to undergo special viral filtration treatment that dramatically decreased the amount of virus in his blood and may have contributed to his survival, according to Dr. Donovan. 

“After many weeks of intensive care therapy, Michael was able to return to Kampala and his family. Unfortunately, Ebola survivors may be left with long-term complications including fatigue and damage to organs such as the kidneys. 

“Although he is grateful to be back home in Uganda, Michael has been unable to work and will need a lengthy rehabilitation before he fully recovers.” 

In an email to Dr. Donovan and other colleagues, Dr. Mawanda said, “I would like to let you know that I am recovering quite well and gaining strength each day. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the care, support, prayer and solidarity that you shared with me during this illness. I am very thankful to you all and God bless you.

“My journey from Freetown to Frankfurt was miraculous. Obviously, I didn’t understand much at the time. It all happened so fast. It had been a busy week at the Lakka Ebola Centre, then on Saturday evening, I developed a fever. It turned out to be the worst. The doctors think I had one of the most severe clinical states. It took so many procedures to keep me alive, I was on the edge. It’s been a difficult time. Some complications have been slow to resolve, but I am making good progress. 

“My heart still goes out to Sierra Leone. I have been told the Ebola situation isn’t any better.” 

Ebola fighters were 2014’s Time Magazine Person of the Year. But not all medical practitioners were as heroic as Dr. Mawanda, described by Dr. Donovan as an excellent and compassionate physician. Doctors resigned and left the country, organizations withdrew staff and international flights were halted. 

Soon after he arrived in Freetown, Dr. Mawanda, a pediatrician, was no longer treating only children. He also had to get involved doing nursing work and cleaning, because there was no one else to do it. 

Both Dr. Mawanda and Dr. Donovan plan to return to and help combat the Ebola outbreak. Dr. Donovan goes back in February. 

“As an Ebola survivor, it is felt Dr. Mawanda will be immune to reinfection once he is fully recovered,” said Dr. Donovan. “I’m looking forward to working with him and my WHO colleagues again to help stop this deadly disease.”