Dr. David Knight, who has traveled to and performed surgery in Liberia twice annually since 2010, has deep feelings for the country in light of the spread of Ebola. Besides his annual visits, he also feels a connection because the mother of a former Waterbury Hospital colleague is president of the western African nation.
“His mother was actually the first democratically elected female president of any country in Africa,” said Dr. Knight, who describes President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard trained economist, as a fire-cracker, who is responsible for the thousands of U.S. troops sent to assist Liberia.
“She wrote a very, I thought, heart wrenching letter to President Obama saying that we can’t do this and it’s going to overwhelm us,” said Dr. Knight, the associate director of surgical residency at Waterbury Hospital. The troops are scheduled to build 17 Ebola treatment facilities, according to Dr. Knight.
Most residents of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, had never seen or heard of Ebola, because it was contained in the jungles.
“But, because of road improvements and other things, people can travel and so it came and got into urban areas,” said Dr. Knight.
His last trip to Liberia was in March, which was just before the outbreak blossomed. Since then, Dr. Knight’s circle of colleagues at John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia has dwindled.
“Two of the senior physicians at JFK died of Ebola,” he whispered. “They were friends of ours, friends of mine.”
And, with the Ebola outbreak, there has been collateral damage in countries like Liberia, where simple procedures performed everyday at U.S. hospitals just are not happening.
“If somebody develops appendicitis, and their appendix bursts, then they get peritonitis and the likelihood is they will die of appendicitis,” said Dr. Knight.
And, in a country of four million people, which includes fewer than 200 doctors, it’s easy to see how the healthcare system would be stressed by the recent onslaught of patients.
Dr. Knight says he will visit Liberia again, but is not sure when. He says he takes a team of roughly a half dozen of Waterbury Hospital’s residents with him whenever he visits and he wants to be respectful of them and make sure they are onboard with making a trip that even Dr. Knight says “scares me.”