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Liberian Nurse Who Recovered From Ebola Dies In Childbirth

Feb 28, 2017
Originally published on February 28, 2017 6:49 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's say goodbye to a woman who once graced the cover of Time magazine. She was from Liberia. She fought the Ebola virus which claimed her parents and her brother and infected her, yet she survived and dedicated her life to helping others and was featured as Time magazine's Person of the Year, representing health workers. The way she died, last week, is striking. It wasn't from Ebola. And we're going to talk about this with Aryn Baker of Time magazine who's on the line. Welcome to the program.

ARYN BAKER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was her name, and what happened to her?

BAKER: Salome Karwah was a young Liberian nurse, and she was giving birth last week, cesarean section. She was discharged from the hospital about three days after giving birth to a healthy baby boy. And when she got home, she started going into convulsions. We don't know why. I suspect some sort of blood infection. But her husband and sister rushed her to the hospital, and that's where, really, the bad thing happened.

People were so scared of seeing a foaming, convulsing woman come into the hospital that they just had probably legitimate fears of Ebola coming back. And they knew that she was a survivor, so people refused to treat her - not refused, were probably too scared to treat her.

INSKEEP: She didn't get the treatment she needed is what you're saying.

BAKER: That's what her sister tells me. I spoke with her sister Josephine on the phone yesterday, and she said nobody would come near her. No one would give her injections. People were just too scared. They kept saying she was a survivor.

INSKEEP: What does it say that she would survive Ebola, that she would have worked so much with Ebola patients and then die in childbirth?

BAKER: I think what this tells us is that even before Ebola hit Liberia, the country suffered a massive insufficiency in medical care, and then Ebola came and wiped out what little there was left. So you just have a real deficit of doctors, of good care, of proper practices. So something as simple as childbirth or a blood infection, for example, just can go untreated. And you add on top of that fear of Ebola, the legacy of Ebola, and it just makes this toxic mix.

INSKEEP: What was Salome Karwah like when you talked with her?

BAKER: She was super charming, very vivacious. When I met her the first time, she had just come out of the Ebola treatment center where she watched both her mother and her father die in front of her, so she was scarred. But at the same time, she was determined that if she could survive Ebola that she was going to tell everybody else that they could too. She was living proof, she said, that the disease was not a death sentence. You have to remember that it was back in 2014, when I met her.

INSKEEP: What was she able to do for people?

BAKER: You know, it sounds so obvious, but she was just able to touch people. Because when - as a survivor of Ebola, she was immune to the disease, so she could go into the treatment units where no other doctor could go, and she could hold a hand. I mean, she should still wear gloves, but she could hold the hand of a young child, rock a baby, spoon-feed an elderly man. And just touch alone was enough to give people hope and a reason to try and make it through.

INSKEEP: Well, this is a story that I think touched many people. Aryn Baker of Time magazine, thank you very much.

BAKER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She reported on the death of Salome Karwah in childbirth in Liberia. She was a survivor of Ebola who had helped many other people with that disease.

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