My dad was the first Liberian doctor to die from Ebola: One daughter's story

by Elizabeth Brisbane, as told to Julia Belluz

Dr. Samuel Brisbane is one of more than 200 health workers who have lost their lives to Ebola during this outbreak, and the first Liberian doctor to die from the virus this year. On July 26, the day he died, he was only three days shy of turning 75. Dr. Brisbane could have long retired from practice, but his dedication to his patients kept him going — even in a hospital with a dire shortage of safety gear, regular power outages, and an onslaught of patients with a virus that terrified him. His daughter, Elizabeth Brisbane, talks about her father and his life's work at John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia.

The regretful thing is, the guns didn't kill Daddy, but Ebola did kill him. He survived all of the wars in Liberia. He never did fight. He was there while all that took place in Liberia was Charles Taylor's wars, and he was able to survive that. He trained in Germany in the 1970s, and he decided to return to Liberia and work through the wars to be of service to his country. He knew that his patients needed him the most.

During his last days, while he was waiting for his Ebola test results, he told my brother Samuel that if the test came back positive, he would fight the disease like he fought everything else. We had prayed that he would survive. After all, he was fearless that way, and if anyone could beat the odds, he could.

For the last 10 years, he had worked at the JFK medical center in Monrovia, where he started a diabetes program, a stroke program, and an HIV program. He was later joined by Dr. Abraham Borbor, who took over the leadership of the HIV program. Daddy and Dr. Borbor were very close. Dr. Borbor also died a month later, in August, from Ebola.

I jokingly called my father Dr. Ebola. I said, "Dr. Ebola, how are you doing?" Little did I know Ebola would be the cause of his death.

I had hoped in his old age, Daddy would retire. See, in addition to his love of medicine, he loved farming. On his farm he had coffee, pineapples, and peppers. When I saw him last, in April, I said, "Go on your farm and if you love medicine that much, open a clinic." I said, "You're working too hard. That hospital is going to kill you."

In April, he was already treating Ebola patients. When I visited Daddy in the hospital, I heard they would count gloves to give the nurses because they don't have enough. I jokingly called my father Dr. Ebola. I said, "Dr. Ebola, how are you doing?" Little did I know Ebola would be the cause of his death.

I knew that I could not stop my father from treating Ebola patients. My father once had a neurological problem with his back and he couldn't walk. He saw patients in a wheelchair. Because of his dedication and commitment, he stayed there treating patients.

In the last few months, the foreign doctors had left the JFK because they didn't have the proper equipment for Ebola. But because of Dad's commitment to medicine and his patients, he provided treatment and care to them even though he didn't have personal protective equipment.

I could not go to his funeral. Because the government says people who die with Ebola must be buried the same day, I could not make it back to Liberia fast enough.

Dad had chosen a spot on his coffee farm that he wanted to be buried at, and the government honored his request. He could have ended up cremated or in the mass graves with the other Ebola bodies.

For Daddy, they were able to put his body in a body bag and then place the body bag in the casket. The burial team escorted the casket to the farm for interment with my brother Samuel showing them the way. I am grateful Daddy has a grave that I can visit.

find the original article here: