Emory Ebola survivors reunite 5 years later

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Walking back into the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit at Emory University Hospital for the first time in 5 years, Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol and their families are surrounded by cameras and memories.

"People have asked me if it's traumatic to remember the experience I had here," Brantly says.  "It's not.  I really have feelings of nostalgia for my time in that unit. 

When they arrived two days apart in the August heat back in 2014, the two SIM missionaries were wrapped in personal protective equipment, battling a virus that kills more than half of the people it infects.

"There was a message on the whiteboard on the wall in the room that said, 'Welcome. We're glad you're here,'"  Dr. Brantly remembers.  "And, I was really thankful to be near my family again, to know, even though I was still very sick, and it wasn't clear that I would survive, to know that I was in proximity to my family meant a lot."

Brantly and Writebol had worked together in Liberia, at a hospital that had been quickly turned into an Ebola treatment facility.

That is how they were infected, how they ended up here at Emory.

"And I look forward to going back into that unit and washing my hands and smelling that soap," Brantly says.  "To remember how I felt in that time, when things had been so bad, but I knew things were going to be okay.

Writebol says it was a blessing to go through this experience with a friend.

"I remember picking up the telephone in our unit, and Kent and I would spend a lot of time debriefing each other, and talking about the events that had happened, and what we thought the mistakes were, and what had gone right."

The two were treated in adjoining rooms, in a unit with its own medical lab, and nurses who were by their side 24/7.

The Emory team had been training for years on how to safely care for patients with highly infectious and dangerous diseases.

They had only had two patients in the unit before Brantly and Writebol were airlifted to Atlanta.

"The healthcare providers did what they were trained to do, and they did it well," Carlos Del Rio, the Chair of the Department of Global Health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, says  "And, all of a sudden, the survival of the people with Ebola here at Emory was 100%.  And why was it 100%?  Because it was the best prepared unit to do this. It wasn't accidental."

Writebol and Brantly have fully recovered and are headed back to Africa.

This, as a new Ebola outbreak rages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She will go there to train trauma counselors to help Ebola survivors.

Brantly will be one of 3 doctors working in a 200 bed hospital in Zambia. 

"The 5 years has just flown by," Nancy Writebol says. "But, we are very, very grateful."

And that smell of hospital soap?

Kent Brantly says it's still there.

It's the scent of hope.

SEE ALSO: Former Ebola patient calls attention to current outbreak