Salome Kwarwah, a Liberian nurse who survived the deadly Ebola epidemic passed away from pregnancy complications on February 22, 2017. She was age 28.
“It all started with a severe headache and a fever. Then, later, I began to vomit and I got diarrhea. My father was sick and my mother too. My niece, my fiancé, and my sister had all fallen sick. We all felt helpless.
It was my uncle who first got the virus in our family. He contracted it from a woman he helped bring to hospital. He got sick and called our father for help, and our father went to him to bring him to a hospital for treatment. A few days after our father came back, he too got sick. We all cared for him and got infected too.
On August 21, I and my whole family made our way to MSF’s Ebola treatment center in Monrovia. When we arrived at the treatment unit, the nurses took my mother and me to the same tent. My fiancé, my sister, my father, and my niece were taken to separate tents. My sister was pregnant and had a miscarriage.
They took our blood and we waited for them to announce the results. After the lab test, I was confirmed positive. I thought that was the end of my world. I was afraid, because we had heard people say that if you catch Ebola, you die. The rest of my family also tested positive for the virus.
After a few days in the isolation ward, my condition became worse. My mother was also fighting for her life. She was in a terrible state. At that point, the nurses made the decision to move me to another tent. By then, I barely understood what was going on around me. I was unconscious. I was helpless. The nurses had to bathe me, change my clothes, and feed me. I was vomiting constantly and I was very weak.
I was feeling severe pains inside my body. The feeling was overpowering. Ebola is like a sickness from a different planet. It comes with so much pain. It causes so much pain that you can feel it in your bones. I’d never felt pain like this in my lifetime.
My mother and father died while I was battling for my life. I didn’t know they were dead. It was only one week later, when I had started recovering, that the nurses told me that they had passed away. I was sad, but I had to accept that it had happened. I was shocked that I had lost both my parents. But god spared my life from the disease, as well as the lives of my sister, my niece, and my fiancé.
Though I am sad at the death of my parents, I’m happy to be alive. God could not have allowed the entire family to perish. He kept us alive for a purpose.
The family and the entire Survivors Network Community are in our thoughts and prayers.
Salome, you will forever be remembered for your heroic role in the battle against Ebola. GONE TOO SOON! Rest In Peace.”
Nurse’s assistant at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Monrovia and an Ebola survivor
I was working for our family clinic in the Smell No Taste area [near the airport, in Margibi County, an hour and a half from Monrovia by car]. I was a nurse. Both my mother and father, plus my elder sister and I, [were] medical personnel.
We got Ebola through a crisis that happened near our town. This lady, 26 years of age, she was pregnant, from [the city of] Kakata. And then she got sick. And then she died.
A lady from my community went to the funeral. And there she contracted the disease. My father’s brother, my uncle, was her pastor for the church. She got sick, and he went to help her as her pastor. He contracted it from her, and then she died. After a week, my uncle got sick.
[My uncle] drove to our house for my father to see what really was going on. That is when my father contracted it. And then he brought it into our house, with my mother taking care of him. He was a diabetes patient. When he got sick, I used to give him his medication, his injection, insulin. And then I contracted it.
My sister was pregnant six months. Helping my dad, she got it too. And then my mother did, because both of them used to sleep on the same bed. And then my niece who was 6 years of age. And then my fiancé. So everyone was infected.
They looked like normal symptoms. None of us really thought of Ebola. One of my brothers is an accountant at the clinic where they used to do the Ebola test. When my uncle died, he tried to find the cause of death. So he went there and took my uncle’s test. And it was positive.
He brought my mother, my sister and me on the 21st, the day our father died. My mother died the 24th of August.
When I got sick, I was breast-feeding my 10-month-old baby. My brother took her blood to do her tests. She was negative. So my fiancé was taking care of her, because I was in the ETU. Since she was negative, they couldn’t bring her to me.
The 29th, [my fiancé] got sick. He left the baby with our next-door neighbor and came for the tests, and was positive.
Due to the death of my parents, I went out of my mind for about one week. I was going mad. I was very, very much distressed. I just felt that everything was over. But after a week, with encouragement from the nurses and a counselor—they helped me a lot—I become stable. I was taking my medication, I was eating. And always they were coming to encourage me.
To have Ebola is very, very horrible. It deals directly with the brain. It makes you—you can’t remember anything. The pain is very much severe. If you don’t have strong resistance, you can’t stand it. The headache of Ebola is extraordinary. It hurts like they are busting your head with an ax. And it gives you severe body pains, like you don’t even want to move your body from here to there.
The girl that [my fiancé] left my baby with, she used to bring her to the ETU, and I saw her every two days. She would stand across the fence and I would sing for my baby. I made a song for her on the day she was born. I used to sing it before she went to sleep. It goes like this: “Go to sleep, baby, go to sleep. Go to sleep, baby.” She knows it very well. So I sang this song when they brought her to the fence. She would be laughing, playing, and then they would carry her back.
I was in the treatment center for four weeks [and] four days. Really, what made me survive is the support from the nurses. The support from the psychosocial [team] also really helped me.
They were looking for survivors to come and work [at the MSF clinic]. I make it my duty to come. The more I interact with people, the more I will forget about my sad story. The more I share my story with people, the more I will get strong, strong, strong and stronger. So I decided to make myself very busy to help others survive. The day I came here for an interview, I saw people carrying bodies. I started crying. I told my friend, “I can’t make it.” But when I went the next day, I said, “Sitting and crying won’t help me. So it’s better I go and work. The more I see it, the more I will adjust myself to it.”
I go in [to the treatment wards] not saying I am a survivor. I ask [the patients], “Where do you live? What is your contact number?” And I tell them, “Just because you are here doesn’t mean that this is the end of your life. You have another life to live. I was a patient here. I managed to survive. So if I can survive—I’m not different from you—you can survive too.” And the person will say, “Ah, you are a survivor? How did you manage to survive?” And I tell them.
When I see my patients survive, it brings a great joy to me, because at least my efforts never went in vain. —as told to Aryn Baker.