In Face of Ebola, California-Trained Doctor Treats Patients in Liberia

Shops remain closed in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)
Shops remain closed in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia. A doctor trained in California traveled last week to staff a Monrovia hospital. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

While Californians worry about a single possible case of Ebola, considered low risk, the hot spot for this outbreak remains in West Africa where 1,350 people have died, and another 2,400 people are sick with the illness. But what happens to people who get sick with something that is not Ebola?

Dr. James Appel was trained in the Inland Empire, at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He's been working for Adventist Health International at hospitals in Chad for the last decade. Last week, Dr. Appel flew to Liberia to keep the doors open at Cooper Adventist, a small hospital in the capital, Monrovia, focusing on remaining available to patients with anything but Ebola. He talked Thursday morning with The California Report's Rachael Myrow.

Appel described Liberia as "shutting down" around him. "There's a curfew that's been initiated. Many businesses are not open; all the schools are closed, government offices are closed," Appel told Myrow. "So for example our hospital is not getting paid by the insurance companies, because insurance companies are closed. The whole economy is coming to a standstill."

Appel said that people are starting to think there will be food shortages. There's a "profound impact not just for those few patients effected by Ebola, but for the whole country," Appel said.

Many public hospitals in West Africa are closing their doors or refusing new patients, Myrow noted, and asked Appel why the General Conference of 7th Day Adventists wanted to keep Cooper Adventist open.


"Cooper has a history of not wanting to shut down during crisis situations," Appel said, adding that it stayed open during the Liberia's civil war. "Staff feels that they have a mission, and that is to provide care to the Liberian people when no one else will."

"While Ebola is dramatically killing people in a way that catches the imagination," Appel said, still more people are dying from malaria or complications from emergency c-sections. "With all hospitals shut down because of the Ebola crisis, the death toll would soon far surpass anything that Ebola could do, just due to other normally treatable diseases," Appel noted.

The hospital is old and run down, he said, a very small, three story structure on a "tiny parcel of land in the heart of the city."

Cooper Adventists cannot treat Ebola patients because they do not have the isolation facilities necessary. Appel said they refer any suspected Ebola patients to a bigger hospital. "Anyone suspicious at all, we send them where they can get better care and where we will not be putting our other patients at risk,"Appel said, adding there is only one lab in the country that can run tests for Ebola. All blood samples go there.

Appel acknowledged his own fears in treating patients during the ongoing crisis.

"I can't say I’m not afraid," he said. "In all my medical training, there's only one thing that's ever scared me and that's Ebola --  because it is so lethal and happens so quickly and there's no known treatment." But he quickly added that Ebola is not as contagious as people might think. The virus is not airborne. Transmission requires "direct physical contract with (a patient's) bodily fluids. If normal universal precautions are taken and you're very careful about screening patients and keeping yourself protected with gowns and gloves and masks, there's actually a low likelihood of you getting it."