Ebola Survivor Kent Brantly: 'My First Thought Was My Family'

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Dr. Kent Brantly treated Ebola patients in Liberia

Courtesy Samaritan's Purse

09/03/2014 AT 02:45 PM EDT



When Dr. Kent Brantly woke up on July 23 feeling out of sorts, he thought that he had contracted malaria.

"I took my temperature and it was, I think, 100.0," Brantly said on Wednesday's Today show.

Brantly, an American missionary doctor serving in Liberia, stayed home that day, assuming he'd feel better after a little rest. But when he woke up the next morning, his fever was even higher and it became clear that he did not have malaria.

He called his colleagues, who suited up and visited his house in West Africa to administer an Ebola test. It came back negative.

"I really was more irritated that I was going to have to sit in my house for three days," Brantly said. "I knew the first test, unless it is positive, is not the definitive test."

The 33-year-old doctor's condition continued to worsen, and on July 26, his second test came back positive.

"My first thought was my family. How am I going to tell them?" Brantly recalled.

His wife, Amber, waited anxiously in the States for the news. "When he did call to tell me he had Ebola, I don’t know if I can describe that,” she told Today.

"I knew what was coming," she said. "I had seen him treat these people who had already been diagnosed, and I knew how it ended. I knew how everyone had ended up so far. So I had the disadvantage of having the knowledge of the course of the disease. I was scared."

Special Isolation Ward

Along with American missionary Nancy Writebol, 59, who also contracted the disease in Liberia, Brantly was flown from West Africa to Emory University Hospital, where he was treated for the deadly disease in a special isolation ward. They were both there nearly three weeks there before being released.

"I don’t think there is anything special about me that made God save my life," he said in the interview. "God promises that he hears our prayers and that he answers them. Not every answer is yes."

But for him and Writebol, it was. "I don't know that I've ever known five doctors that have cared so much," Writebol said of her caretakers at Emory University Hospital during a press conference Wednesday.

And though she nearly died working in Liberia, she doesn't regret the experience at all. "It was a joy to be there. There was not a fear there," she said. "You never knew what was going to happen every day."

A third, as-of-yet unidentified American has now been diagnosed with Ebola at the same hospital where Brantly worked in Liberia.

"I was notified about that this morning and spent a good long while in tearful prayer," he told NBC News.

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