Ebola survivor Rick Sacra's faith moved him to return to Africa

by Dwayne Hastings, National Correspondent |
Dr. Rick Sacra was infected at the EWLA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, while caring for pregnant women who were believed to be free of the Ebola virus. | SIM

MONROVIA, Liberia (Christian Examiner) -- The Massachusetts doctor who was one of a handful of Americans to contract the deadly Ebola virus last year returned to the mission field this week, six months after he was medically evacuated from Liberia.

Dr. Rick Sacra, who was infected while caring for pregnant women who were not believed to have Ebola, worked in the country for 15 years with SIM (Serving in Mission), an international Christian ministry.

Upon his return to the U.S. on a medevac plane late last summer, Sacra, a family physician from Holden, Massachusetts, was successfully treated at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The hospital is one of four in the U.S. to have a biocontainment unit.

Throughout the ordeal he remained hopeful he would be able to return to the mission field once he fully recovered.

"I am feeling well physically, and it seems the Lord is opening the door for me to return to regular ministry trips to Liberia," Sacra said, according to a report on the SIM website.

Sacra served in Liberia until 2010 until he returned with his family to the U.S. He would periodically return to the country to provide medical care and contracted the virus on one of those visits to Liberia.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been the hot zone for the Ebola virus epidemic. Since a prayer emphasis in August and October in Liberia, that country has seen a dramatic drop in infections and deaths.

He had volunteered to travel to Monrovia last August after the virus decimated the hospital's medical staff, including SIM Missionary Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantley, a physician with Samaritan's Purse. They were working at the same facility near the Liberian capital.

After being diagnosed with Ebola, they were transported to Atlanta's Emory Hospital, where they have both since recovered.

In returning to Liberia this month, Sacra will treat patients with malaria and chronic health conditions.

"I know what I'm getting into a little more and also I've had the thing I was afraid of last time, and thank God I'm through it," he said Jan. 12 during a press conference at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Sacra will spend just over three weeks at a SIM hospital just outside of the Liberian capital.

Sacra said he is privileged to return and join a "team of real servants" at the EWLA hospital in Monrovia. "These are men and women who are taking a significant risk to care for patients with the love and compassion of Jesus every single day," he noted during the press conference.

Saying he has been told he is immune to at least one of the Ebola strains, he added, "I'm grateful for that but I don't plan to test that."

It is the doctor's faith in Christ that drove him to return to where he had his very real brush with death. "When Jesus was on this earth he traveled around to visit people who were lost, forgotten and suffering. He made it his business to accept them, love them and heal them, and he asked us to the do the same. That's very personal and very real for me," he explained.

While Ebola cases are declining in Liberia, Sacra said the fatality rate from the virus is 60 percent in West Africa, with medical workers particularly "hard hit."

Over 8,400 lives have been lost to Ebola, primarily in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization. The current outbreak, which originated in December 2013, is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976.