FORT KENT, Maine — Kaci Hickox, the nurse who made national headlines recently when she defied Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to quarantine her after she returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, is among those honored as Time Magazine’s 2014 “Person of the Year.”
The magazine named those fighting Ebola its 2014 “Person of the Year,” applauding the work of medical relief teams, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams working in western Africa, where an outbreak of the virus has killed thousands.
“For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are Time’s 2014 Person of the Year,” the magazine said in a statement.
Efforts to reach Hickox Wednesday were not successful.
But Hickox told the BDN last month, “There is no humanity in Ebola.”
Hickox was interviewed then at the Fort Kent home she shared with her boyfriend Ted Wilbur, a former University of Maine at Fort Kent nursing student, a few days before the couple moved to southern Maine.
While in west Africa, Hickox ran a 35-bed clinic in Bo, Sierra Leone, supervising a 50-member medical and support staff.
“One of the difficulties in west Africa is there were not enough beds and definitely not enough beds in facilities equipped to take care of Ebola patients well,” she said. “We were a referral facility, so patients already diagnosed with Ebola were transferred to us.”
Every morning, Hickox said, she would get calls from health care workers at five other facilities telling her each had at least 10 Ebola patients they needed to send to her.
“That’s 50 patients a day that needed to come us, and we had to tell them we only had five available beds,” she said. “And three of those beds were [available] because three people died last night.”
Hickox recalled a young man she worked with whose case made Ebola very personal.
“This was a strong, 22-year-old man that I would have told you could have gone to run a marathon he was so strong, young and healthy,” she said. “He came into my clinic one day, and I’m the one who had to tell him his test was positive for Ebola. He did not say a word; he just walked away. He had seen this disease enough to know this was not good.”
Five days later, Hickox said, the young man was so ravaged by the disease he was unable to hold up a bottle of water to drink on his own.
“The disease had completely wrecked his body. [And] when you see a disease that can do that to anyone, there is no reckoning behind it,” she said. “It can destroy anyone.”
Hickox told Time magazine she stepped into a grueling routine in Bo.
“International staff typically works 12-to-14-hour shifts six days a week,” she said. “It was in the high 90s when I was there and the [protective] suit is not breathable, because it’s made to not be absorbent. You can only be in the suit for about an hour because of the heat …”
Fighting Ebola, Time reported, “means living with such a terrible feeling, Hickox says, a sinking, haunted sensation that no matter how much you’ve done, you could have done more.”
In November, Hickox told the BDN she feared her experience upon returning to the United States could hamper the efforts to recruit the volunteers needed to battle Ebola in West Africa.
When Hickox landed in New York returning from West Africa in October, a health care worker took her temperature and informed her she had a fever. Hickox subsequently was moved into a quarantine tent set up in the parking lot of Newark, New Jersey, hospital where she spent three days in isolation.
Hickox tested negative for the Ebola virus and eventually was allowed to leave Newark and join Wilbur in Fort Kent, where the LePage administration’s attempts to confine her to her home were not upheld by the courts. She voluntarily stayed away from public places, however, until her 21 days of self-monitoring during the virus’ incubation period concluded on Nov. 10. She never tested positive for Ebola.
“It is crazy we are spending so much time having this debate about how to safely monitor people coming back from Ebola-endemic countries when the one thing we can do to protect the population is to stop the outbreak in West Africa,” Hickox said.
At the same time, Wilbur was attempting to complete his UMFK course work via online and telephone links to the campus.
Wilbur ultimately withdrew from the program after he claimed the university could not, or would not, ensure his safety from possible threats or harassment from other UMFK students.
The magazine featured five people on its covers including Dr. Jerry Brown, a Liberian surgeon; Salome Karwah, an Ebola survivor whose parents died from the disease; and Dr. Kent Brantly, an American missionary who became infected while in Liberia.
Hickox also was honored this week by MTVu, MTV’s 24-hour college network, which named the nurse its 2014 Woman of the Year alongside its Man of the Year, comedian John Oliver, for their “groundbreaking work in 2014 to challenge the status quo, inspire reasoned debate and create positive change.”
Ebola has killed 6,331 people out of 17,800 cases in the latest outbreak, almost all in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the United Nations’ World Health Organization.
The current death rate is estimated to be about 70 percent of all cases.
The Reuters news service contributed to this report.