It's been almost a year since the deadly Ebola outbreak peaked in Africa. One man died in Texas and more than 11,000 overall.
One Midwestern State University professor is now sharing her story after spending more than a month helping aid the disease ravaged country. Dr. Karen Polvado, the Associate Professor of Nursing, traveled to Sierra Leone in March of 2014 to help aid in the fight against Ebola.
“This [wasn’t] my first disaster nursing trip,” said Polvado. “Ten years ago after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka I went with a team, a medical team to provide care in Sri Lanka, and then five years ago when the earthquake hit Haiti.”
However, it was this disaster nursing trip that had the biggest risks. Many people lined the streets in Africa dying from the deadly disease. Meanwhile, Dr. Polvado sacrificed her own health risks for the benefit of thousands.
“You know my theory is, my belief is, that you can't be in faith and in fear at the same time,” said Polvado. So I just had interfaith that I was going to be safe.”
While the outbreak peaked in November and December of 2014, according to Polvado, she still faced hazardous conditions as she made her was to Africa in March.
“At the time I was in Sierra Leone all outdoor activities were banned, school was out. So soccer, which was a huge sport in Sierra Leone was on hold,” said Polvado.
She first arrived in the capital city of Freetown where she received extra training and mock practice. It was after that, which she went down to the heart of the outbreak and got to work.
“It was hot over there,” she said. “When you're in the gear it was about 140 to 160 degrees.”
However, the heat wasn't nearly the hardest part.
”It was difficult,” said Polvado. “Especially with the kids because you think the kids are rallying and getting better only to come in the next day and find out that they've died.”
Even those that survived faced consequences.
“There's a huge stigma for survivors even today,” she said. “Over there, going back to the communities, they were shunned. They're still shunned. They lost their belongings and loved ones and sometimes while they were getting treatment in the Ebola treatment unit their houses get burned down.”
While she was there she not only treated Ebola patients but also taught African nurses how to handle those types of patients.
“The physical and mental preparation was very important,” said Polvado. “I mean physically it's demanding to be in that kind of heat, and mentally emotionally drained.”
The demands didn't stop in Africa. Once she made it to the United States and Wichita Falls she was actively monitored for 21 days.
“The CDC gave me a cell phone, a flip top phone, that I was to keep with me at all times during the 21 days of monitoring,” said Polvado.
She was also handed a CDC care card that informed health officials to isolate her if they found her unconscious.
“We did some intensive active monitoring for about the first seven days or so. They would come to my house twice a day,” she said.
It was a tough mission, but she couldn't have done it without the support from her school and family, according to Polvado.
“For me, if you go overseas or someplace remote to work to prevent an outbreak from getting worse, then you are really protecting those at home,” she said.
Although the Ebola outbreak is over it's not completely gone from those countries. In order to be declared Ebola free countries have to go at least 42 days without any new cases.
Liberia has been declared Ebola free, and Sierra Leone is getting close. However in the past few week Guinea has seen three new cases, according to Polvado.