WORCESTER — This time last year, Dr. Rick Sacra was given a second chance at life.
On Sept. 25, 2014, the 52-year-old Massachusetts physician had just been discharged from an Omaha, Nebraska, hospital after being treated and cured of Ebola.
Sacra had contracted the deadly virus while delivering babies in a Christian mission hospital in Liberia. Rushed back to the U.S., he spent three weeks suffering through fevers, vomiting, diarrhea and aches.
Sacra says his faith gave him peace through the uncertainty.
“Of course I knew that I might die,” he told The Associated Press this week, reflecting on the ordeal. “It made me very aware of how grateful I am for every day I’m given.”
Other than an eye problem that nagged him until late January, Sacra says he’s now fully recovered.
“I’m doing fine, 100 percent,” he says before deftly pivoting to acknowledge that many West African Ebola survivors still deal with serious health complications, the anguish of losing loved ones, and stigmatization and fear upon returning to their battered communities.
Sacra says he doesn’t regret a thing. “Some risks are worth taking,” he says. “Even if I had died due to Ebola last year, I would not have changed what I did.”
He’s wasted little time resuming the medical mission work that he’s done for the greater part of his adult life.
Effectively rendered immune to Ebola, the University of Massachusetts Medical School assistant professor has returned to Liberia three times so far this year. Notably, he was the first of America’s handful of Ebola survivors to return to West Africa last January.
He also went back in April and July for additional stints at the mission hospital just outside the Liberian capital of Monrovia where he’s worked, off and on, for about two decades.
Sacra, who plans to return again in November, says the need for able health care workers is just as great now as it was during the throes of the epidemic last year, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has claimed more than 11,000 lives.
Many Liberians who stayed away from hospitals at the peak of the epidemic are just starting to return with serious chronic ailments such as heart disease and AIDS, he says, pushing already strained health care facilities beyond capacity.
Just weeks ago, Liberia was declared “Ebola-free” for the second time this year. Neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, however, continue to see a small trickle of new Ebola cases each week, signs that the virus has been controlled but not completely eradicated.
Sacra continues to speak at churches and colleges about his experience and has no plans to stop his quarterly trips back to Liberia.
“When Liberia is on its feet again and it doesn’t need help anymore, I’ll probably move on to someplace else,” he said. “But as long as the needs are there and I can make a difference, I think I ought to keep doing it.”
The Associated Press/Worcester Telegram & Gazette