By Melissa Strickland | First Published: October 01, 2014
Dr. Kent Brantly knew he was on the brink of death. He had treated dozens of patients as the Ebola virus stole their lives, and he was now suffering from the same painful symptoms as he lay in his bed under quarantine.
Just a few weeks earlier, he had written, “I can’t imagine being quarantined to a hospital room for days or weeks with no one coming close to me unless they were wearing something
that looks like a space suit.”
His condition was a far cry from the life he had expected in Liberia, where he was serving as a missionary doctor through the Samaritan’s Purse Post-Residency Program. “My wife, Amber, and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola,” he said. “We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital."
It was a call that Kent sensed even as a young boy in Indianapolis. The youngest of six children, he grew up hearing the stories of missionaries who would visit his church. “My dad was an emergency room doctor, so medicine was always of interest to me,” he said.
Kent focused on biblical studies at Abilene Christian University and spent a 10-week summer internship working with three mission teams in Kenya and Tanzania. While in Africa, he heard a teacher speak about being a slave to Christ - a critical point in discerning God’s call on his life. “Wherever He wanted to send me, wherever He called me, I would go,” he said.
“I began to recognize that because of my commitment to Christ, I was His slave. I had already made the decision to follow Him, so as long as I continued in that decision, the choice was already made. For the first time in my life, it also became very clear that as long as I follow Him, He would provide everything I would need to be faithful to Him.”
A short time later, Kent met Amber on a medical missions trip to El Salvador and Honduras. They realized that they shared a life’s dream of bringing the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel to needy people as missionaries. “It was never my dream to be a doctor,” he said. “Being a doctor was simply a tool to do the job to which God has called me.”
After medical school and serving as a resident physician in Texas, Kent learned about the opportunity to go to Liberia as a post-resident. The country’s health care system was in shambles after a bloody civil war that had claimed thousands of lives.
Kent’s parents, Jim and Jan, recalled the moment Kent told them he was called to serve in Liberia. “We had given Him to God from the time he was born,” Jan said. “We knew we had to trust that the Lord would use him and protect him.”
Later, when she learned that her son was in the throes of the deadly Ebola virus, she recommitted his life to the Great Physician. “I pleaded with God to spare his life,” she said. “I
begged Him to bring Kent home to us and to his wife and two little children. But, I told God it was His battle. And that He had already won the battle.”
Jan felt God’s presence and peace, and she knew that she would still praise God even if Kent didn’t survive Ebola.
“I had so many things to praise Him for,” she said. “I would praise Him that Kent had been given to this world for 33 years, and for the difference I felt he had already made in that
33 years for the Kingdom.”
Kent’s family also drew strength from his own commitment to his Savior, even as he shared the news that he had been infected with such a deadly virus.
“In the same breath that he said, ‘My test was positive,’ he said, ‘Whether I live or die, I want God to be glorified,’ Jan said. “And when Kent said those words, he never expected that
the world would hear them.”
Kent’s faith was especially powerful considering his intimate familiarity with the horror he was about to face. The virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the first outbreak was recorded in 1976, has no cure and a high mortality rate.
Kent had treated dozens of patients as the number of people infected with the deadly disease began to steadily increase at ELWA Hospital in March. “I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them,” he said. “I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name.
“It is a frightening thing to know that you are encountering the most deadly virus known to man,” Kent said. “Anyone who says otherwise is not being honest. Every time I put on a personal protective suit, it felt like putting on a space suit. It requires a support crew. It takes 30 minutes to put on the suit, then we would always pray together before entering the ward.”
He added, “Ebola virus disease is an awful process. Most patients suffer with agonizing pain all over their bodies. But I think the worst part is that all of these patients die alone. For the last days of their lives they are isolated in a strange place. There is no loving face for them to look upon or ungloved hand to stroke their forehead as they slip from this life to the next.”
When Kent woke up feeling achy and slightly feverish one Wednesday morning, he immediately suspected he might have Ebola and isolated himself in his home. He knew a positive test result would turn his life upside down and could possibly end his time on earth. But he had a deep sense of peace that was beyond understanding. “God was reminding me of what He had taught me years ago, that He will give me everything I need to be faithful to Him,” he said.
For the next nine days in Liberia, Kent gradually grew sicker and weaker. All the while, his family back home and thousands of people around the world followed his progress and pleaded with the Lord to spare his life. “You think you are praying as hard as you can, and something happens and you realize you can pray harder,” said his sister, Krista. “I knew God was bigger than Ebola. I knew God had the ability to heal Kent regardless of the reports we were getting on his condition, but I also knew He might not and that we had to trust Him either way.”
After receiving a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old Ebola survivor that he had treated and then a dose of an experimental serum, Kent was finally evacuated to the United States, where he continued his recovery at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.
“There were people surrounding his house praying,” Krista said. “There were people all over the world praying. We are convinced God used those people and that serum and that doctor.”
And Kent’s healing convinces the family all over again that God still moves mountains.
“I believe God does miracles,” Jan said. “I believe God uses natural events and He uses people and things He’s put in place to bring about miracles.”
Upon his release, Kent’s first remarks to a waiting world were directed at bringing glory to the Lord who had saved his life. “I serve a faithful God who answers prayers,” he said.
Kent is now reunited with his family and is continuing to heal. His words from one year ago are still relevant as he thinks about his next steps: “While I still do not know exactly where God is calling me, I have no doubt—no hesitation—that He has called me to be a full-time medical missionary,” he said. “And as I dream about what that will look like in the years to come, my heart leaps with excitement and joy, knowing that He has called me.”